Inside: A list of our favorite heavy work activities and why you should use them to calm and focus your child
It’s one of those days.
You know the ones when the kids seem to be stuck in a permanent “play mode”? Like that little lever in their brain just won’t switch off (or even just turn down a little)?
While I’m all for kids being kids and enjoying play, there’s also a time for calm. Like when you really need to go to the grocery store, but you can’t imagine what that would be like considering the volume and chaos level inside your home at the moment. Or when the kids are supposed to be cleaning up and getting ready for quiet time, but instead their attention continues to be diverted by more (chaotic) play.
That’s when this mom pulls out the laundry basket and some thick books off our living room shelf.
It’s time for some heavy work.
What is “Heavy Work?”
It may sound like some form of prison punishment, but it actually comes in the form of play.
Heavy work activities push or pull against the body and are usually used to help kids who have trouble with sensory processing. They ground the body and put out excess energy (OR energize the body more, depending on which type you do).
How do heavy Work Activities Help?
Heavy work aids a sense called proprioception, which is basically self-awareness. If you’re finding that your little one:
- is all over the place
- makes wild motions while playing
- often gets in other people’s personal space while playing
- plays roughly even when the other person doesn’t want to
- has a hard time coming down from this high-energy play
- seems to have little control over their volume,
certain heavy work activities could help him/her become more regulated and aware of their body.
NOTE: Kids do need a level of play that allows them to get their wiggles out. So when our kids do the things listed above, it communicates to us as their parents that they need to get out pent up energy. That’s another reason why heavy work activities are great. They allow kids to get what they need in a way that’s acceptable.
If we don’t give them a positive way to do something (heavy work), they’ll often stumble upon a negative way (chaotic play). If we let them stick with the negative way for too long, it forms a habit/pattern and becomes that much harder to break as we try to redirect them in a more positive direction.
Like I mentioned before, there are different forms of heavy work. Some help bring their systems down while other activities may charge them up (best for kids who are particularly low). In my home, we don’t need any help with high energy. Instead, we need to bring it down.
Are They Only Used to Regulate Sensory Issues?
Occupational therapists often recommend heavy work activities to children with sensory processing disorder. But heavy work can also be great for any child who maybe just has some extra pent up energy or who is having a hard time focusing.
We first found heavy work activities while one of my children was referred by our pediatrician to see an occupational therapist for a month. While my child doesn’t have sensory processing disorder, the occupational therapist felt that these activities could help regulate some of the behaviors we were struggling with at home.
So even if your child has no diagnosed sensory issues, heavy work activities can still be extremely beneficial.
PLUS unlike medication, these are natural ways to help your child regulate behavior. No harmful side effects here.
Some of Our Favorite Heavy Work Activities
Again, this list is based off what works for my high-energy kids. You won’t see things like running and jumping on this list (although they do those things too, just not during heavy work time) because those activities tend to act as uppers. That’s the opposite of what I want. If your kids are high energy, you know what I mean!
Instead, these are the activities that help expel extra energy while grounding their nervous systems so they can calm down and focus.
- Carry a bucket of water or sand
- Dig in a sand box, using scoopers & hunting for buried toys
- Pour sand or water back and forth between two or more containers
- Do a back yard obstacle course that includes lots of crawling
- Push a wheelbarrow around the yard (fill it if your child needs the extra weight)
- Animal walks (bear crawl, crab walks, duck walks, etc.). Tell them to be slowwwww bears or slow ducks. Keeping it rhythmic and slow-paced will help their bodies settle. Being silly and going through the activity quickly, on the other hand, will likely rile them up…
- Wheelbarrow walking. Side note: I tried to have my two oldest kiddos do this together (they’re super close in size), but that was definitely a no-go. It actually made them more hyper! So we now always do this activity with an adult/child pairing.
- Build a low fort, then army crawl under it
- Load a laundry basket with toys or books, push it across the floor, unload it. Then repeat!
- Carry a stack of books from one room to another (holding them against the chest)
- Hand pushing game (adult and child place hands together and push back and forth)
- Doing push-ups against a wall
- Pushing an exercise ball against a wall or against an adult who is pushing back
- Squish, knead, and shape play-doh. Pro tip: Use homemade aromatherapy play-doh with essential oils like this one from the Vintage Modern Wife.
- Carry groceries
- Sweep with a broom
- Mop the floor
- Wipe down your spot at the table
- Rip cardboard & other paper products like mail for recycling
- Chewing gum (if your child is old enough)
- Munching peanuts, baked chips, or other crunchy snacks
Every child is different, so these may or may not be the answer for you. But it’s a place to start!
For a full list of our favorite heavy work activities and a special worksheet to help you get started (more about that below), subscribe here:
Incorporating Heavy Work Into Your Day
Now that you know the why and the what, there’s the question of how. While it may seem daunting to imagine, incorporating heavy work throughout the day isn’t a difficult task.
We do heavy work activities 4 or 5 times a day. It doesn’t have to be any crazy carved out amount of time. We just do a couple items off the list every few hours. But there are ways to make it flow seamlessly in your day.
For example, as a chore, my children are responsible for wiping their spot at the table (and their chair) after each meal. So not only does it help me by allowing them to take responsibility for their own mess, but it’s also a heavy work activity that requires a little bit of energy, helping them calm down.
If you need some ideas on how you can fit these activities into your day, subscribe below to download the free Sensory Diet Cheat Sheet.
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The Effect On Me
The surprising change that’s been just as beneficial as the shift in their energy has been the shift in mine.
Granted, we haven’t stuck perfectly to our sensory diet by any stretch of the imagination. But even knowing how their bodies work and what helps has changed the way I view their behavior when they’re wired.
Knowing what heavy work can do has given me just one more set of tools in my back pocket. On tough days when I’m feeling frustrated at the hyperactivity, I’m reminded of what I know works. And suddenly I’m thinking up creative ways we could play to get their wiggles out and expel some of that extra zing.
So in that moment, I get to CHOOSE to shift my mood (from frustrated mom to playful mom), and change our whole day.
If it’s something you’re struggling with, it’s worth a shot.
Why does your home need more focus and calm? Have you tried heavy work and seen positive effects in your family? Drop a comment below!
Until next time,
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