Last updated on Jun 11th, 2021 at 12:21 pm

Body awareness is an important developmental measure in early childhood. It is something we usually take for granted, yet it plays the most fundamental role in our ability to learn. It is a term we often hear, and although we know it’s an important area of child development, it’s not always understood! So, what exactly is body awareness and how does one promote it?

Body awareness is about understanding your body, and body parts, and how they are in relation to each other and the space around you. It’s the “knowing” of what your body is doing without having to rely on your eyes to tell you.

Our senses help promote body awareness

Good body awareness requires our senses to work as a team. The contribution of our movement receptors, and the visual and tactile senses are most important. Johannesburg based Occupational Therapist and Clamber Club teacher, Gabbi Katzenellenbogen, explains that body awareness develops from our sensory systems. The vestibular (movement), proprioceptive (body position) and tactile systems. “Children need to know what their bodies are doing in order to learn and interact with the environment. Body awareness impacts learning and planning of movements,” says Katzenellenbogen. “If we do not know what our bodies are doing in space then it can impact on our relationship and interaction with things around us.”

Children who are clumsy often have poor body awareness which impacts on their coordination and learning new gross motor skills. They often need to use their vision to compensate for not being able to feel what their body is doing.

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How does body awareness develop?

As children move, interact with, and explore the world, their brains start to fill up with sensory motor information, forming a body map. To increase the variations of movement a child performs, means to increase the accuracy of the body map, in other words, an improved body awareness. The more variations of movement a child performs, the more accurate the body maps become. The more accurate the maps, the more able one is to navigate unfamiliar body movements, and have new learning experiences.

Body awareness is developed through movement. Movement experiences help to build neural memories about all the parts of our bodies. Our body size, weight and boundaries, our current position relative to the rest of the body, and all the movements we have ever made. Through body awareness we are able to sense and understand information about the nature of gravity, the hardness of some things, the softness of others, the flexibility of others etc. How do we know for example that we can flop down on a big fluffy pillowed bed, but we cannot do the same on a concrete bench? Our body awareness tells us this!

What do we need body awareness for?

Cape Town-based Occupational Therapist and Clamber Club Sports Franchisee Jade Antunes says, “When we have good body awareness, we are able to build memories about all the things that our bodies can do, and we use these memories when we move, when we play, and when we learn. On a movement level, our body awareness is closely associated with the ability to motor plan, and motor planning forms the basis for the learning and development of skills”. Body awareness is also important for the development of fine motor skills such as using everyday tools (e.g. fork, spoon, crayons, scissors, buttons, zips and shoelaces).

By the time children reach seven years of age, it is the integration of body awareness that leads to the understanding of left and right concepts, and later on the development of directionality.

What does body awareness encompass?

There are primarily three aspects to body awareness:

1. Body image

How does your child feel about himself? Does he feel good? Is he confident? Does he have a positive self-image? We can promote this from a very young age by providing realistic, positive feedback, by having appropriate expectations and by giving our children a variety of movement experiences through which they can gain body image mastery and confidence.

2. Body Concept

This is the intellectual knowledge of our body parts. What each body part can do, and how it can move. For example, these are my hands, these are my toes, and these are your hands and these are your toes. My shoulders can shrug, my elbows can bend, and my eyebrows can lift.

3. Internal body awareness

This is knowing where our body parts are and what they are doing without having to look. It is the internal feedback provided to the brain from the muscles, the joints and the balance system in the inner ear, as well as from the eyes, ears and skin. All of these senses relay messages about our body to our brain. This information enables the brain to know where each part of the body is and how it is moving.

By performing many physical activities and improving your child’s competence over a period of time, he will have a better awareness of the capabilities of his body in general, as well as more awareness of his relationship to the environment. He will come to know what his limits are and he will learn to judge movements and predict outcomes.

Top tips to promote body awareness

Occupational Therapist and founder of Clamber Club, Liz Senior, has put together these top tips that can promote body awareness so that your baby may be more coordinated, confident and safe when performing age-appropriate activities.

  • Playing games at bath time or when getting dressed is an ideal time to learn about body parts. “Let’s put your trousers on. Feet go in there…Where is your knee? Oh there it is!”, or at bath time, “Lets pour some water on your back, and then on your tummy”
  • Exercise time! Lie your baby on his back, and passively move his limbs for him. For example, make marching movements with his legs, or boxing movements with his arms
  • If your baby is crawling, provide as much opportunity as possible for him to do so. The amount of tactile input he receives all over his body while crawling is immense. Not only that, the body is working against gravity. This feeds the joints and muscles with important sensory information
  • Move and dance to music together. Hold your baby in your arms, rock him, lift him up, move his hands with yours and… sing along!
  • Massage your baby to bond with him, and to teach him about his body, how many limbs he has, how big or small he is, the size and shape of his body and to provide a source of pleasure and security. Massage your baby using gentle but firm strokes. Use moisturising cream, grape seed oil or powder for different sensations

About Clamber Club

Clamber Club is an extensive and exciting sensory and perceptual motor learning and development program that encourages the joy of movement, play and exercise in babies, toddlers and young children. To learn more about Clamber Club please visit www.clamberclub.com.