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Body Awareness: Laying the Foundation for Motor Skill Mastery

Learn why mastering body awareness is critical for young children.

Body Awareness: Laying the Foundation for Motor Skill Mastery

Body Awareness

Head, shoulders, knees, and toes…” You probably know this song well, but did you know the lyrics and motions of the song help lay the groundwork for young children to build on important perceptual motor skills?

As children dance and point to different parts of their body, they build body awareness, a skill that is vital for overall coordination and movement—abilities that allow them to stay active and healthy as they continue to grow. But there’s more to body awareness than just being able to touch your eyes, ears, mouth, and nose. 

So, what is body awareness?

Simply put, body awareness is an understanding of the various parts of the human body, what they can do, and how they relate to other body parts. The initial foundation of body awareness begins in infancy, when babies first discover their hands or feet. As children age, they discover more parts of their bodies and how they move, allowing them to crawl, walk, run, climb, and play. 

Helping children develop body awareness early is important, as research suggests that the foundations of body awareness are developed in early and mid-childhood and reach an adult state after just 10 to 11 years of age. This means children with poor body awareness by late elementary years are likely to be less coordinated later in life. 

So what can you do to ensure that your preschoolers have strong motor skills and knowledge of their bodies? One important tip is to find ways to train their proprioceptive system. 

What is proprioception? 

Proprioception is an automatic sensitivity mechanism in the human body that sends messages through the central nervous system, letting the brain know how to react to certain stimuli and with what amount of tension or force. In other words, it’s our brain’s natural sense of our movement and actions, and the thing that allows us to walk, run, balance, ride a bike, and do just about any action.

While the basics of body awareness involve knowing each body part, proprioception involves understanding their movements, as well as when and how to move them to achieve certain actions. Teaching children new motor skills involves training their proprioceptive systems, especially if the skill involves moving their arms or legs without looking at them. 

Clapping, jumping, throwing, or kicking a ball are all skills that require coordination and an understanding of how the body is positioned. And while proprioception is typically developed unconsciously, it’s important to give children plenty of opportunities to practice these skills and train their brains to understand their bodily movements. 

Children dancing and playing


The importance of body awareness

It’s easy to see why body awareness is important for children as they become more active. It allows them to understand their body’s limitations and play more confidently in the space around them. However, even simple tasks we take for granted are made easier by proper body awareness. 

Properly functioning proprioception is what allows a child to sit in a chair without falling over, close a door with the right amount of force, develop handwriting, play carefully with others, or navigate their homes, classrooms, and new environments. In simplest terms, strong body awareness and proprioception set the foundation for nearly every important physical skill children will need as they grow. 

What are some useful body awareness activities? 

While proprioceptive systems typically develop organically, there are plenty of activities you can do with children to help build on their body awareness and enhance their movement capabilities. Here are a few of our favorites: 

Play Simon says

This classic game is a great way for children to practice their listening skills and moving different parts of the body. Call out directions for children to follow whenever “Simon says.” For example, you can say, “Simon says touch your elbow” or “Simon says close your eyes.” 

Incorporate music and movement

Combining music and movement is another great way to make learning fun. Songs like the “Hokey Pokey” or “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” can give children a chance to dance and play while also teaching them to identify parts of the body and even differentiate their left from right. 

Bring on the bubbles

Blowing bubbles is a great way to help children work their “proprioception muscles.” It gives them a chance to move through their environment as they chase, catch, clap, and pop bubbles. Encourage them to avoid bumping into furniture or other children as they move around.

Play follow the leader

Much like “Simon Says,” having children mimic the actions of a “leader” is a great way to practice movement and mobility. Alternate who gets to be the leader and have the other children line up behind them. The leader then picks an action to do such as jumping jacks, touching their toes, or clapping their hands, as the other children follow along. 

Move in the mirror

Mirrors allow children to not only perform certain movements but also watch themselves as they do them. Use large or handheld mirrors while asking children to make facial expressions or identify parts of their bodies they don’t normally see, like their noses or mouths.

Get on the playground

If you have access to a playground area, let children get out and explore. Encourage them to climb and move around as independently as possible. For older children, look for ladders, climbing ropes, swings, and monkey bars for them to interact with. 

Try incorporating some of these activities into your lesson plans and capture children’s progress towards developmental milestones with an easy-to-use tool like brightwheel’s daily activity report feature.

Body awareness and perceptual motor skills

Unlike physical movement, such as running and jumping, body awareness is a perceptual motor skill that children develop as their brains start to make connections to their bodies. It is one of several perceptual motor skills children need to truly master movement.

Some skills like temporal awareness help children gain a sense of rhythm and timing, while other skills like spatial awareness allow children to perceive how much space their bodies are taking up at a given time. Collectively, these skills help children stay safe and active as they learn to explore the world around them. 


While some aspects of body awareness develop naturally, it’s crucial that parents and educators find ways to build on children’s knowledge of their bodies and movement, as these skills become cemented at a young age. Incorporate fun games, music, dancing, and play to help children identify body parts and master basic movements safely and effectively.

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