It is amazing how many sensory opportunities for heightening body awareness arise before, during and after pool time. I discover more every time I swim (especially during an aqua OT session)! Keep in mind, this is not about perfecting strokes. Our goal here is body awareness. Improving motor skills in the pool will be addressed in another blog.
Here are a few ideas to get you going:
1. Start with Sunscreen. Aside from being a critical life skill, applying sunscreen provides tactile input all over the body. Make sure to label each limb and body part as you apply sunscreen, e.g., “Now lets do your right arm.” Turn it into a massage to provide calming, deep pressure. This is a great way to prepare the child that might be nervous about getting in the pool.
2. Jump In! The sensation of flying through space (vestibular input), followed by the impact of crashing into water (deep pressure) ramps up body awareness and alertness. If you don’t believe me, try it. For your more advanced swimmers, diving in kicks it up a notch. Whenever the head is upside down, the vestibular system gets super powerful input, letting your body know where it is in space and how it is moving in relation to gravity.
3. Swim & Play. Moving through water in ANY way heightens body awareness by providing consistent deep pressure all over the body, and proprioceptive input as muscles contract to resist the pressure of the water in order to move. How simple is that? All you need to do is bring your children to the pool and let them play, and already they are getting key body awareness input!
Ramp it up by encouraging hand-stands, somersaults, log rolling and a variety of strokes (side, back, front). This will add in that awesome vestibular input, an essential body awareness ingredient.
4. For Your Non-Swimmers. Kicking and splashing in the water while sitting on the pool steps, or walking through the shallow end counts as movement through water! Remember, water pressure + muscles working against resistance = body awareness. You can’t get your child as far as the steps? No worries, dump and fill lots of buckets with water to get that proprioceptive input.
5. Some Specific Games.
a. Catch the Rings. You will need pool rings. Drop a bunch of rings in the water for swimmers, on the steps for non-swimmers. Give instructions for how many rings to collect and how to get them. e.g., Get 2 rings on your right arm and 1 ring on your left foot. Start simple, and don’t use “left” and “right” in the instructions if your child is not ready.
b. The Whistle Game. You will need a whistle. Make a “whistle code” that is appropriate for your child’s pool skills and sequencing skills. For example: 1 whistle = jump in, 2 whistles = kick to other side of pool using kick-board, 3 whistles = handstand, etc. You can start with single whistle instructions, and work your way up to longer and longer sequences.
c. The Dolphin Game. Set up one or more hula hoops in the water. You can have hoops at a variety of depths if your child can surface dive. The goal is to get through the hoop/s without any part of the body hitting the hoop (this is the part that challenges sense of body position in space).
6. Drying Off. Lets hear it for more tactile/deep pressure input! For children who lack the body awareness to dress independently and efficiently, here is a last dose of body awareness input to help meet that dressing challenge. Use the towel to firmly dry off each part of the body. Just as you did with the sunscreen, label each limb as you dry.
Submitted by: Ariela Warburg Harcsztark, MA, OTR/L