Years ago my son’s occupational therapist recommended he do some heavy work activities every day to calm his mind and body and to help improve his focus and learning. I had never heard of this before but because of the impact these simple actions have had on his learning, these days we don’t go a day without some kind of heavy work.
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Kids can struggle with learning for many reasons. Most of my kids have, and the main focus of this website is dyslexia, but dyslexia is a complicated diagnosis.
There are many factors that play into each unique child’s experience with dyslexia such as the degree of auditory and/or visual processing lag, degree of working memory weakness, and the additional layer of ADHD or Executive Function weakness.
These variables are why no two people with dyslexia present exactly the same.
Finding activities or strategies that address these common underlying weaknesses can have a big impact on learning.
What is heavy work and why is it helpful?
Heavy work activities, also known as gross motor activities, involve the use of large muscles in the body such as those in the arms, legs, and torso. These activities can include things like running, jumping, climbing, and throwing, as well as lifting, carrying, pushing, or pulling heavy objects.
Engaging in heavy activities can help kids learn in several ways:
Physical development: Heavy work activities promote physical development and coordination by strengthening muscles and improving balance and coordination.
Attention and focus: These activities can help kids focus and concentrate on a task, which can improve their attention span and ability to complete tasks.
Sensory processing: Heavy work activities can help kids process sensory information and regulate their bodies, which can improve their ability to pay attention and stay focused.
Problem-solving skills: Heavy work activities often require kids to figure out how to manipulate objects and solve problems, which can improve their problem-solving skills.
Social skills: Heavy work activities often involve working with others and can help kids develop social skills such as teamwork and communication.
Additionally, heavy work can be calming and provide a sense of accomplishment, which can be beneficial for individuals who may struggle with anxiety or other emotional challenges. It can also help to improve physical strength and endurance, which can have a positive impact on overall health and well-being.
Overall, heavy work activities can provide numerous benefits for kids’ physical, cognitive, and social development.
Some examples of heavy work activities for kids include:
- Lifting and carrying heavy objects, such as bags of sand or water jugs
- Pushing or pulling large objects, such as wheelbarrows or sleds
- Throwing or catching heavy balls or medicine balls
- Climbing on and balancing on large, heavy objects, such as logs or tires
- Using heavy tools or equipment, such as rakes or shovels
- Pulling or pushing heavy objects through resistance, such as tug-of-war or pushing a partner on a swing
- Carrying groceries or heavy laundry baskets
- Doing heavy yard work, such as raking leaves or lifting and moving large branches
- Doing heavy lifting exercises, such as squats or lunges with weights
- Playing sports that involve heavy physical activity, such as football or wrestling.
Heavy Work Activities That can be Done Inside
- Use of bean bags and bean bag chairs
- Use of body socks
- Chewing gum or crunchy foods
- Sucking through a straw
- Wipe down surfaces like chalk or white board or desks and tables
- Wall or floor push-ups
To gain a better understanding of the science behind why heavy work helps kids with behavior and focus, read this post from Growing Hands-On Kids.
Download a Heavy Work Activity Checklist
Limitations of Heavy Work Activities
These heavy work activities are not a miracle cure or a substitute for systematic, explicit, multi-sensory teaching methods such as the Orton-Gillingham approach to teaching kids and adults with dyslexia to read. Instead, they are intended to improve our kids’ ability to focus and attend to that instruction.
Our Experience with Heavy Work Activities
One of my goals as I parent and educate my outside-the-box learners is to help them learn how they learn and what kinds of supports benefit them the most. This can also be referred to as teaching self-advocacy. My son has been able to experience how physical activity, whether heavy work activities or simply going for a run or bike ride, has on his learning. For example, he can complete a math lesson quickly and efficiently on the days when he rides his bike around the block a few times before getting started. His experience is vastly different on the days when he chooses not to ride his bike first.
I recommend trying to implement a few of these activities into your week and see what kind of difference it makes in your kids’ learning.