- Get Movin'! Before you expect kiddos to sit for group time or a class lesson, have everyone stand up for a short movement break guided by the teacher. For example, "Stomp your feet; clap your hands; reach way up; touch your toes; turn around then touch your nose; reach once more; give a clap; sit down with hands in your lap." This will take under a minute but provides an outlet to MOVE before being expected to sit still.
- Deeeep Breathing: Deep breathing helps to calm the nervous system and is another great exercise for kiddos to learn (and adults!). For kiddos, you can ask them to hold up their "candles" (5 fingers), take a big breath, and blow out all of the candles as they put each finger down. If needed, find the candles on the other hand and repeat.
- Water Bottles: Water bottles with a straw-like mouthpiece require sucking to get a drink and this is also a calming technique. In addition, it keeps kids hydrated! If you're worried about the water bottle "sweating" on the desk, the bottle can be placed in a sock that keeps water off the desk.
- Chewing Gum: Now you think I'm crazy, right?! Once you establish the RULES for having gum in the classroom (such as "It stays in your mouth; when it comes out of your mouth, it goes straight to the trash can....") you'll be AMAZED at how chewing gum helps kiddos to calm. Chewing is an "organizer" for your nervous system and helps to calm. The same can be achieved with a StarBurst or other chewy foods.
- Fidget Toys: Giving kiddos something to hold in their hands when listening to the teacher helps to keep their fingers out of their mouths and noses and can be a big help in keeping attention. Toys such as Koosh balls, stress balls, etc are easy to store in a basket and can be given out as needed in class.
- Weighted Lap Pad: You might have heard of a "weighted snake"---a soft weighted "tube" that can be placed on the student's lap when sitting. It offers proprioceptive input that helps the kiddo to sit still. These can be bought in therapy catalogs or better yet, make your own out of a little bit of material filled with rice. My daughter made these cute snakes you see below!
- Headphones: Some kiddos simply cannot block out the classroom noise (and there might be a lot of it!), so you can offer noise cancelling headphones that can be used during work time or whenever the kiddo feels the need to diminish some of the distractions and noises.
Hopefully with some sensory strategies, creativity, and maybe a little extra patience, you'll find that it's not so difficult to design a learning environment that works for all students!
Jen Dermody, OTR/L