From UBC Wiki
Movement Experience for Children
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
Office Hours:
Class Schedule:
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

Body Awareness: General Definition

Body awareness is a concept used to define the “attentional focus and awareness of internal sensations” (Mehling et al., 2011). Further defined by Mehling et al., body awareness is “the subjective, phenomenological aspect of proprioception and interoception that enters conscious awareness and is modifiable by mental processes including attention, interpretation, appraisal, beliefs, memories, conditioning, attitudes and affect” (2011).

Body Awareness Definition in Young Children

Body Awareness is “the information a child receives through perception, or through representation or mental picture which a child can obtain” (Simons and Dedroog, 2009). This information involves aspects of the child’s own physical appearance, movements in terms of direction, performance, and intensity, the position of the body and the body parts in space and their positions towards each other, the perception of what happens in the environment through feeling, hearing, and seeing (Simons and Dedroog, 2009).

Development of Body Awareness

Body awareness can be developed with the knowledge and understanding of its acquisition. The term ‘body awareness’ is widely used, yet not often clearly described, as often interchanged with ‘body image’ and ‘body schema’ (Vignemont, 2010). In 2010, a qualitative research report defined body awareness as incorporating two components, ‘living in the body’ and ‘living in relation to others and in society’ (Gyllensten et al., 2010). Body awareness develops through childhood formative years and plays a key role in an individual’s relationship with their body throughout a lifetime. Further, in addition to sensory motor experiences, language development is also closely associated with body awareness (Valley and Vandroemme, 1995)

Components of Body Awareness

In the realm of physiotherapy, this concept is considered to have two components: firstly ‘the experience of the body’ and secondly ‘the actions and behaviour in movements and activities’ (Gyllensten et al., 2010). These two definitions define body awareness to have one component solely based on the sensory perception of the body and its parts, and a second component that describes the skill of relating this information to how the body interacts with the surrounding environment.

Distorted Body Awareness

A disturbing neurological condition referred to as anosognosia can cause seemingly intelligent and conscious individuals to become unaware of paralysis on one side of their body. Through the comparison of patients with spatial neglect and patients who were also anosognosic, Berti et al. (2004) found that damage to frontal areas including brain areas 6 and 44, motor cortex BA4, and the somatosensory cortex lead to a loss of body awareness in these patients.

Skill development with respect to age

The stages and components of body awareness develop as babies begin to interact with their environment, enhancing their proprioceptive, vestibular and tactile senses (Weikart, 2000). These skills further develop as a result of locomotive movement (Weikart, 2000). Children gain understanding of their bodies and how they relate to the world by the experiences they have when transferring their body weight through activities such as walking, jumping, running, and leaping (Weikart, 2000). These processes help to develop sensory integration, ‘a neurological process of organizing sensory inputs for function in every day life’ (Isbell and Isbell, 2007), a fundamental part of developing body awareness. These skills develop primarily in the second year of life (Brownell et al., 2007). During this time, toddlers are also developing the ability to recognize themselves in mirrors, relating the idea of self-recognition into body awareness (Brownell et al., 2007). By age five, children have shown the ability to accurately identify body parts which later progresses to detecting physical changes such as location or force by age eight (Doherty and Bailey, 2003). With reference to Gallahue’s three stages of body awareness development, we can then see that the initial stage is completed by approximately age five and the following stages continue to develop through later years. These skills are considered comparable to adult level by age eight (Doherty and Bailey, 2003).

Body Awareness in Children with Mental Retardation

In a study performed by Simons and Dedroog (2009), the body awareness of 124 toddlers with mental retardation and of 124 children developing normally was examined; more specifically, vocabulary skills on body parts were measured among these two groups. Results of this study indicated that children developing normally performed better than their counterparts with mental retardation while there were no significant differences between genders for both groups. Therefore, continuing “speech-language intervention” and “psychomotor therapy” to enhance vocabulary skills and awareness pertaining to body parts in children with mental retardation appears beneficial (Simons and Dedroog, 2009).

Body Awareness Development in Children with Motor Deficiencies

It has been shown that using cognitive strategies for directing attention such as using learning cues enhance body awareness in children with motor deficiencies (Bertoldi, Ladewig, Israel, 2007). More specifically, while performing certain motor tasks, one group underwent a focusing of attention on a specific body segment such as the head, face, and neck. After these interventions, children with motor deficiencies demonstrated a significant improvement in the kinaesthetic perception and critical perception of body parts; hence, the use of learning cues had positive effects on both the acquisition and retention phases of selected motor tasks, affecting the processes of motor learning (Bertoldi, Ladewig, and Israel, 2007).

Importance and Relevance

Body awareness plays a vital role in the development of life long physical and psychological health (Pica, 2003). Being able to relate and understand one’s body has implications in a person’s belief in their physical ability as well as self-confidence (Gyllensten et al., 2010). It has also been theorized that a lack of body awareness dampers a person’s belief in their physical abilities, leading to a reduction in physical activity which ultimately affects a person’s physical health (Pica, 2003). In today’s world where the prevalence of obesity and disease stemming from lack of physical activity is so high, this correlation can be viewed as a stepping-stone to encourage lifelong physical health. In a study conducted to further explore the meaning of body awareness, Gyllensten et al. stated ‘to understand one’s emotions and needs through the awareness of the body were understood as the base for self-confidence, trust in oneself, and the ability to take care of oneself and one’s needs physically and mentally’ (2003). This connects not only the physical implications but also the emotional and mental components of true body awareness. This shows that awareness of your own body plays a larger, more complicated role than just your physical ability. The potential impact this could have on the medical system and resources could imply a financial burden that could be avoided if the knowledge of this area’s importance was stressed. For these reasons, educators and parents must be conscious of body awareness development and create environments that facilitate learning opportunities.

Practical Applications with respect to movement experiences in young children

During infancy, body awareness is developed through interaction with the surrounding environment. For example, allowing the child to touch, feel and experience their own body in relation to their surroundings begins the sensory perceptual learning that develops into a more encompassing ability to be body aware (Weikart, 2000). During children’s toddler years, it is important to continue the exploration of their own body parts. As the motor skills of the child progress, activities should incorporate the three categories of movement: stability, locomotion and manipulation (Doherty and Bailey, 2003). This ensures full development of fundamental motor skills that enhance the sensory perceptual experience from which the child can continue to gain body awareness.

Examples of activities that could be incorporated into a child’s physical experience to facilitate body awareness include:

  • ‘Body part identification: having children touch a specific body part upon request (Gallahue, 1982).
  • Identifying function: asking children what function a specific body part carries out (Gallauhue, 1982).
  • Produce specific body movements: have children perform tasks that involve manipulation of body parts to complete (Gallauhue, 1982).
  • ‘Mirrors’: a game where a child reproduces the movements of another child that is facing them. This forces the child to replicate movement using the opposite side of the body, working with laterality and limb movement awareness (Sanders, 2002).
  • ‘Shadows’: have a child observe the effects of their own movement in the shadows they create and observe how manipulation of their body parts creates different shapes (Sanders, 2002).
  • ‘Animals’: have the children mimic movements of animals that incorporate the three types of movement (stability, locomotion and manipulation). Flamingo on a one legged stance, a bear walking with ipsilateral hand and foot or a rabbit hopping (Doherty and Bailey, 2003).

These examples are presented in a progression that complies with Gallahue’s three stages of developing body awareness.

Common Problems associated with Body Awareness

The presence of certain signs and symptoms may imply that a child is experiencing poor body awareness and consequently requires assistance in acquiring this skill. This can be determined upon assessment such as observing a child’s movements and their interaction with their environment and other individuals. It is common for children to exhibit uncoordinated movement, monitor movement of body parts visually or have poor sense of body position and location in relation to others if they are suffering from an inability to integrate the sensory information needed for body awareness (Miller, 2013). Interventions can be made by an occupational therapist to guide activities that target developing body awareness (Miller, 2013). Body awareness practitioners have found that profound bodily changes can be made when one focuses attention on different body parts (Powell, 1987). Concentration and heightened awareness with respect to body parts is shown to enhance communication between the brain and different muscles (Feldenkrais, 1949). For instance, awareness can simply be increased by asking a child to notice different sensations in the body such as those related to different movements.

Body Awareness as a tool: Therapeutic applications

The developmental importance of this concept is clearly understood, yet in recent years, the expansion of body awareness therapies has become increasingly popular in Western society (Mehling et al., 2011). Activities such as yoga and Thai Chi have been identified to develop this awareness that in turn may have therapeutic value (Mehling et al., 2011). Patients experiencing conditions such as chronic pain, eating disorders, heart disease or mental health issues have been used to inquire about the potential benefits of such therapies. These showed a potential benefit reported in a focus group based study, between these therapies and positive health benefits of those individuals struggling with the above-mentioned conditions (Mehling et al., 2011). Additional studies looking at the effects of body awareness therapy in schizophrenia patients as well as females who suffered sexual abuse are both examples of the types of avenues being pursued to investigate the therapeutic value of this skill (Hedlund & Gyllensten et al., 2010). Continued investigation is needed to further understand the relationship between body awareness and its therapeutic value. This reiterates the importance of development of this skill during formative years.

Effects of Mindful Awareness Practices (MAP) on Executive Function (EF)

Mindful Awareness Practices (MAP) are exercises geared towards enhancing attention to the body and mind (Bishop et al., 2004). Common exercises thought to promote attention include forms of meditation, yoga, and Tai Chi (Allen, Blashki, & Gullone, 2006). A school based program of the aforementioned MAPs was performed in a randomized controlled group of second and third grade students for a duration of 8 weeks (Flook et al., 2010). The results of the study indicated that children who were showing delays in body awareness showed greater improvements in executive function compared with the control group, which was well regulated (Flook et al., 2010). These findings suggest that promoting mindfulness through simple practices in an education setting can be quite beneficial for children with executive function difficulties and delays in body awareness (Flook et al., 2010).


Allen, N. B., Blashki, G., & Gullone, E. (2006). Mindfulness-based psychothera- pies: A review of conceptual foundations, empirical evidence and practical considerations. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 40(4), 285– 294.

Bertoldi, A., Ladewig, I., & Israel, V. (2007). Effects of selective attention on the development of body awareness in children with motor deficiencies. Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy, 11.

Bishop, S. R., Lau, M., Shapiro, S., Carlson, L., Anderson, N. D., Carmody, J., et al. (2004). Mindfulness: A proposed operational definition. Clinical Psychol- ogy: Science and Practice, 11(3), 230–241. Brownell, C. A., Zerwas, S. & Ramani, G. B. (2007). “So Big”: the development of body self-awareness in toddlers. Child Development, 78 (5), pp. 1426--1440.

Doherty, J. & Bailey, R. (2003). Supporting physical development and physical education in the early years. Buckingham [England]: Open University Press.

Feldenkrais, M. (1949). Body and mature behavior. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 6(4), 421.

Gallahue, D. L. (1982). Understanding motor development in children. New York: Wiley.

Gyllensten, A., L., Miller, M. & Gard, G. (2010). Embodied identity-a deeper understanding of body awareness. Physiotherapy Theory And Practice, 26 (7), pp. 439–446.

Isbell, C. & Isbell, R. T. (2007). Sensory integration. New York: Gryphon House.

Mehling, W. E., Gopisetty, V., Daubenmier, J., Price, C. J., Hecht, F. M., & Stewart, A. (2009). Body awareness: construct and self-report measures. PLoS One, 4(5).

Mehling, W. E., Wrubel, J., Daubenmier, J. J., Price, C. J., Kerr, C. E., Silow, T., Gopisetty, V. & Stewart, A. L. (2011). Body awareness: a phenomenological inquiry into the common ground of mind-body therapies. Philosophy, Ethics, And Humanities In Medicine, 6 (1), p. 6.

Miller, L. (2014). Does your child have poor body awareness? [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed: 3 Mar 2014].

Pia, L., Neppi-Modona, M., Ricci, R., & Berti, A. (2004). The Anatomy of Anosognosia for Hemiplegia: A Meta-Analysis. Cortex, 40(2), 367-377.

Pica, R. (2003). Your active child. Chicago: Contemporary Books.

Powell, J. R. (1987). Body Therapies: Body Awareness Techniques. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 5.

Price, C. (2005). Body-oriented therapy in recovery from child sexual abuse: an efficacy study. Alternative Therapies In Health And Medicine, 11 (5), p. 46.

Sanders, S. W. (2002). Active for life. Washington, D.C.: National Association For The Education Of Young Children.

Simons, J., & Dedroog, I. (2009). Body awareness in children with mental retardation. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 30, 1343-1353.

Vallaey, M., & Vandroemme, G. (1995). Psychomotoriek bij kinderen. [Psychomotor therapy in children]. Leuven: Acco.

Weikart, P. S. (1987). Round the circle: key experiences in movement for children ages 3 to 5. High/Scope Foundation.