Have you ever heard the expression “trust your gut”? Well, in order to trust your gut, you must have the skills to be able to listen to it and interpret what it is saying. Of course, “your gut” in this case can include your emotions, sensations, or decision-making skills. Interoception is a body awareness sense that can be defined as the awareness of one’s own internal bodily states. Interoception relates to being able to listen to and interpret “your gut”. This includes everything from the feeling of a full bladder or empty stomach that accompany the need to void and eat, to the feeling of sweaty palms and tight chestedness that may accompany anxiety. When we develop skills in interoception, we can more accurately identify and meet our own needs.
Nature-based play presents significant opportunities to use and practice interoception skills. One huge benefit of playing in and with nature is the promotion of decision-making and risk-taking. While adventuring and getting out of their comfort zone, players will have the opportunity to check in with their feelings to decide if they want or need to play it safely or lean into bravery. Playing in the nature also subjects players to the elements, weather, variable terrain and other circumstances that may can increased exertion. Interoception skills help to make sure players recognize fatigue, pain, or thirst to know when to take a break independently. These skills ultimately enhance safety during play to ensure continued fun!
Author – Bri Marr. Bri is a doctoral capstone student from the Spalding University Auerbach School of Occupational Therapy working with the Children at Play Network from May to August, 2023. As part of her capstone experience she has created a series of blog posts on outdoor play through the lens of occupational therapy.