originally published on Harkla
If you’ve got a sensory child who’s of school-age, it’s likely that he will need sensory supports when he restarts school in the fall. When talking to your teachers and administrators about the need for sensory tools in the classroom, it’s important to frame your discussion in terms of your child’s “readiness to learn.” Sensory tools are intended to promote regulation, improve focus, increase participation, and therefore enable your child to be available for learning!
The key to a sensory-informed classroom is that it supports the various sensory needs of the students in the classroom in a way that is as natural as possible! Not all students learn the same, nor do they have the same sensory needs. When you include sensory supports or tools in a classroom, they will be used differently by kids depending on what their bodies need, when they need input, and how they choose to use the tools!
No matter how they are used, sensory tools that are naturally embedded into the existing school day are more likely to be used by more than just your sensory child, therefore decreasing the social stigma of needing something “different.” By creating a sensory-informed classroom, teachers are setting the tone or culture of the classroom to be one of inclusion, acceptance, and differentiation, no matter what the students’ needs are!
The goal of sensory tools in school is to support participation, engagement, and interactions that promote skill development and learning. Whether your child is working to develop social skills with peers, behavioral and emotional regulation, improve attention/focus, develop organization skills, or manage classroom behaviors, sensory tools can regulate a child’s arousal level in order to get at these higher-level skills needed for classroom success!
Top 10 Considerations for a Sensory-Informed Classroom:
1. Flexible/Alternative Seating -
Did you know that school-aged children need 4-5 hours of movement per day to meet their developing central nervous system’s sensory needs? That’s a hard recommendation to follow when much of their waking day is spent in school! The easiest way to allow for movement in a classroom is to offer students active seating options. “Active seating” is seating that allows for wiggling, moving, and adjusting as an alternative to the typical classroom chair. There are a number of designs to consider:
Standing stations with standing desks or easels
2. Heavy Work Activities -
Heavy work activities are designed to provide proprioceptive input that has a calming, organizing effect on students. When you put everyday classroom objects (books, lunch bags, recess equipment) into a laundry basket, students can carry/push/pull these heavy baskets for extra doses of proprioceptive input.
Better yet, assigning these heavy work tasks as daily classroom “jobs” will ensure these heavy work activities are embedded into natural classroom routines: chair stacker, library book returner, white-board eraser, recess equipment carrier, door holder!
Check out the American Occupational Therapy Association’s OT Connections Blog for some heavy work chores and activities that are appropriate for home and school.
3. Manipulatives -
Manipulatives are often used as a multi-sensory way to teach concepts in school. Whether reinforcing math concepts with popsicle sticks or segmenting and blending words with unifix cubes, manipulatives allow for a hands-on approach to new learning. For kinesthetic learners, or students who learn best when actively touching, moving, and manipulating materials, these manipulatives make learning happen.
If you’ve read our article on Fidget Toys for ADHD & Anxiety, you know how tactile tools are used as fidgets to help some kids to focus. Sensory-informed classrooms can incorporate tactile manipulatives and fidgets to support a multitude of students. Consider distraction-free fidgets like pencil top fidgets, bouncy bands on chairs and desks, and set expectations with a classroom poster of fidget rules!
4. Oral Input -
The easiest way to incorporate consistent oral motor sensory input into the school day is to look at what you’re sending your child for snacks and lunch. Just as you vary the nutritional contents of those foods you send, you should also be varying the textures, flavors, and consistencies. Chewy, crunchy foods will offer proprioceptive input to the mouth/jaw and offering liquids to suck through a thick straw (i.e. water bottle w thick straw like this) will also require the use of mouth muscles! For kids who need more oral input in school, alternative tools allow for sensory modifications in subtle ways.
Pencil toppers like this allow your child to safely chew on the end of his pencil
Some classrooms and schools allow gum or chewy candy to be proactively used to meet oral sensory needs. In these cases, “gum rules” are enacted to ensure appropriate use.
5. Movement -
When you get your child’s school schedule, take note of the movement opportunities in the form of gym class, specials, and recess. Are those times sufficient to help your child regulate and get a good dose of vestibular input? If not, you’ll need to look at additional movement opportunities in the form of whole class activities.
GoNoodle is a free favorite with teachers and students alike!