Friday, September 27, 2013

Sensory Strategies to Start the School Year

The start of a new school year brings together all sorts of kiddos with all sorts of unique personalities.  Some kiddos are happy to sit still and listen to the teacher while others seem to have a very hard time sitting still, following directions, and staying focused.  These kiddos might be a bit impulsive and might be sensitive to touch or noises in the room.  Often, these are not kiddos who are trying to be a behavior problem (though it sure might seem like that!); they might have be displaying characteristics of sensory processing disorder (also known as SPD).  A few simple sensory strategies incorporated into the classroom can be ever so helpful for these kiddos and will make the classroom run much more smoothly.  In fact, many sensory strategies are helpful to ALL of the might even notice that you use some of them yourself!
  • 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

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