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



Proprioception refers to an individual’s position sense in a reflexive way. The process relies on the receptors within the body referred to as somatosensors to relay information to the brain about the orientation of the body’s limb segments. (Getchell, 2009)

Proprioception Vs. Kinesthesis

Proprioception was originally defined by Sherrington to mean perception of movement of the body plus orientation in space(Swazey, 1969). This original definition included a vestibular component. More contemporarily the definition has since evolved, with kinesthesis being the description of any tasks that involve an individual making a cognitive judgement about the location of their limbs relative to one another, whereas proprioception refers to more reflexive movements within the body that are mechanical in nature (Pearson, 1995). There are a number of receptors that allow the body to interpret its position and adjust accordingly without even being cognitively aware (Pearson, 1995).



The body’s receptors are embedded in different locations in the body to provide information about the position of the body. (Getchell, 2009) Their major role is to protect the muscles and joints from injury, and to keep them within normal ranges of motion (Ashton-Miller, 2001). The most crucial receptors are Golgi tendon organs (GTO’s) and muscle spindles. The role of joint and cutaneous receptors is more regulatory, as their activity influences the input and output mechanisms of GTO’s and spindles (Ashton-Miller, 2001). The sensory input received by these receptors is also very important for maintaining balance (Getchell, 2009).

  • Golgi Tendon Organ (GTO): These receptors are located at the junction where the muscle fibers meet the tendon of the muscle; GTO’s are receptors that provide information about the tension being generated within a muscle (Wilmore, 2008). As the muscle contracts this stretches the tendon and the GTO responds by sending a signal through a nerve fiber to relax the muscle as a protective mechanism (Wilmore, 2008).
  • Muscle Spindles: Muscle spindles are wrapped around individual muscle fibers and provide information about the length of a muscle (Wilmore, 2008). As a muscle is stretched the muscle fiber will respond by signalling the muscle to contract (Wilmore, 2008).
  • Joint Receptors: embedded in the joint capsule, joint ligaments and loose articular tissue, joint receptors provide information about joint movement as well as internal pressure such as that caused by inflammation and external pressure such as that caused by wearing a knee brace (Wilmore, 2008). The information provided by the joint receptors on their own is somewhat limited however they play an important role in influencing the sensitivity of muscle spindles (Wilmore, 2008).
  • Cutaneous receptors: in addition to detecting edges, curvature and friction, cutaneous receptors play an important role in grip control, skin stretch and detecting vibrations (Wilmore, 2008). Their functions are very important in the development of fine motor skills such as manipulating objects and writing (Wilmore, 2008).

Nervous System

The movement detections made by the receptors are interpreted by the nervous system which is made up of the brain, spinal cord and sensory and motor nerves (Wilmore, 2008). Signals travel in the nerves to the spinal cord where spinal reflexes occur, in addition to being projected superiorly to the brain for interpretation. In order for these signals to travel quickly and efficiently, nervous system development, particularly through synaptogenesis and myelination plays a key role (Wilmore, 2008).


The proprioceptive system is crucial for the regulation of all locomotion such as walking, running and determining the preferred pattern of human movement to minimize energy expenditure (Dean, 2013). The ability to perform these tasks autonomically determines not only an individuals abilty to live a healthy and independent life but also greatly influences their performance in sport. One’s ability to detect the position of their joints is also crucial in injury prevention (Ashton-Miller, 2001). In sport the limbs are commonly put into compromising positions at the end of their range of motion, the body’s proprioceptive system functions to detect these limits and reduce the extent to which the joint extends beyond this point as it is approaching its limit (Ashton-Miller, 2001). This is particularly important for the ankle and knee joint which are both highly susceptible to injury. Injuries of this nature occur frequently in any sports where planting, twisting, tackling and sliding occur which encompasses many sports such as soccer, football, rugby, field hockey, lacrosse, tennis and track and field (Ashton-Miller, 2001).

Considerations for Practitioners

The importance of the role of the proprioceptive system is to be considered by any individual involved in the development of the child. As it is a complex system involving many different receptors and the propagation of information within the peripheral and central nervous system, parents, teachers and coaches should consider the impact that any activity can have in terms of helping or hindering a child’s development. The most important thing is to start early by getting the child involved in a variety of activities.

Motor Milestones

  • Prenatal growth of the nervous system: Much of the proliferation and differentiation of neurons occurs during this period. During the third and fourth prenatal months almost all the neurons that the individual human brain will ever have are formed (Getchell, 2009). The health of the mother including physical activity, nutrition, stress levels and rest can affect this process (Getchell, 2009). The mother should take extra caution to monitor all of these factors during this period and throughout pregnancy to optimize neurogenesis and thus the proprioceptive potential of the child.
  • 0-4 years: Brain growth increases rapidly after birth and reaches 80% of adulthood by age 4 (Getchell, 2009). Many of the lower brain centers that mediate reflexes and reactions are established by this point which is crucial for autonomic functioning such as respiration and food intake (Getchell, 2009). As many proprioceptive actions are also reflexive in nature, the development of lower brain centers is crucial for proprioceptive functioning. During this period a variety of extrinsic factors may affect the development. Nutrition of the child is extremely important and is first and foremost the responsibility of the parent as the child may not yet be in contact with coaches or teachers. It is also important that the child be introduced to a variety of stimuli to facilitate development. When purchasing toys for their children parents should consider the impact the toy will have on the child’s physical and cognitive development. This has led to the emergence of kinder gyms, a safe place where parents can take children to play with one another and to be exposed to various equipment and toys that facilitate a variety of movements such as reaching, grasping, climbing, jumping, pushing, pulling and balancing.
  • 5-9 years: At this stage children are further developing their proprioceptive skills and through fundamental movement skills such as Agility, Balance, Coordination and Speed. (Canada Sport Centres, 2013) During this period the child should take part in a variety of sports to develop and wide range of skills and avoid specializing in any one sport too early. It has been hypothesized that early specialization can place too much of an emphasis on sport specific skill development, while taking away from the overall development of the child (Canada Sport Centres, 2013). For example if a child is involved in a ball sport that utilises a lot of foot- eye coordination like soccer they should also participate in a sport that requires a higher degree of hand-eye coordination like badminton. Although the individual recipe may vary per child, ensuring this type of variety will afford the child the opportunity to develop their proprioceptive skills in a dynamic environment through play. During this period the parent may influence the sports that the child chooses to participate in, however it is the coach that is working most closely with the child in movement. The coach should consider which skills they are trying to develop when planning practices and drills and incorporate a variety of activities that are always providing the child with new challenges.
  • 10+ years: By adolescence the individual should have received enough variety of activity that their proprioceptive system is quite developed (Canda Sport Centres, 2013). At this stage as the individual may become more specialised in their sport the proprioceptive demands of their sport may vary greatly. A rugby player or soccer player will be much more concerned with injury prevention due to the fast past nature of the sport and the agility required to frequently plant and turn on the ankle (Ashton-Miller, 2001). By contrast a rower or sprinter’s proprioceptive system would rely more on the stretch reflex mechanisms of their quads to maximize power during a race (Ashton-Miller, 2001). During adolescence the individual will be spending a great deal of time with their coach and perhaps be introduced to some new health professionals such as a strength coach or physiotherapist. It is important to ensure that all these individuals work together to monitor the individual’s skills and look for any discrepancies in their development such as asymmetries that could hinder their performance or lead to injury.


Ashton-Miller, J. A., Fry-Welch, D., Wojtys, J. M. (2001) Can Proprioception Really be Improved by Exercises? Knee Surgery Sports Traumatology Arthroscopy 9, 128-136

Canada Sport Centres (2013) Becoming a CS4L Community. Victoria, BC: Canadian Sport for Life.

Cressman, E.K., Henriques, D.Y.P., (2012) Visuomotor Adaptation and Proprioceptive Recalibration. Journal of Motor Behavior 44(6)

Dean, J. C., (2013) Proprioceptive Feedback and Preferred Patterns of Human Movement. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, 41(1), 36-43.

Getchell, N., Haywood, K. M., (2009) Life Span Motor Development. United States of America: Thomson-Shore, Inc.

Pearson, K.G. (1995) Proprioceptive Regulation of Locomotion. Current opinion in Neurobiology 5(6), 786-791

Swazey, J. P., (1969) Reflexes and Motor Integration: Sherrington’s Concept of Integrative Action. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Wilmore, J. H., Costill, D. L., Kenney, L. W., (2008) Physiology of Sport and Exercise. United States of America: The Premier Print Group.