Promoting your child’s success at school can be a challenging task, particularly for parents of children with sensory processing difficulties. Communication between parents, teachers and school personnel is critical for establishing a safe, supportive and enriching environment. Children with sensory integration difficulties may have enormous problems in the classroom, not because of a lack of intelligence or willingness to learn, but rather resulting from difficulty coping with a neurologic system that isn’t organizing and responding appropriately to a variety of sensory stimulation from the external world.
A well- organized sensory system is important for everything a child does, especially when it comes to maintaining focus and attention in the environment of a classroom. While the child with sensory integration difficulties can benefit from a sensory-smart classroom, so can every child. All children benefit from a calm, distraction free classroom where they can feel more in control, and in turn, improve their schoolwork and social skills.
The following is a compilation of sensory strategies for use in the classroom to promote the learning potential of every child, including those with sensory processing challenges:
Provide “Heavy Work” Opportunities:
Heavy work gives necessary input to the child’s body, helping him develop an improved body awareness and regulating his system. Allow the child to take responsibility in the classroom by completing specific “jobs.”
- Carry books to the library, or to another teacher
- Hand out papers to the class
- Watering plants in the classroom
- Push/pull heavy items in the classroom, i.e., chairs, boxes, class supplies
- Erase the board
- Empty wastebaskets or recycling
Providing movement opportunities on the child’s seat, or at his desk is a great way to provide necessary sensory input many children crave, while also helping to increase their attention during stationary, table top tasks.
- Tie a Theraband around the front legs of the child’s chair
- Provide a wiggle seat to place on the chair surface
- Allow time for “chair push-ups,” especially before seated writing tasks
Keep Those Hands Busy:
Many children with sensory processing challenges have a need for tactile input, resulting in constant touching of objects, and other classmates. For these kiddos, maintaining an optimal arousal level with regular (and non-distracting) tactile input is important.
- Place a Velcro strip on, or inside of the child’s desk, or on the edge of his seat
- Give the child a small bottle of lotion (with a calming scent, such as lavender) to place in his desk, or in his back pack, for those times when he needs to move his hands
- Experiment with fidgets in a variety of forms: worry stone, paperclips, squeeze ball, necklace fidgets, bracelets, zipper pull fidgets, etc. (For some children, however, these items may be too distracting. If the object is decreasing attention, opt for the sensory input as noted above with Velcro placed on the desk itself.)
All children need frequent breaks from work to get up and stretch and move their bodies. Frequent gross motor breaks help to “wake-up” the body and reset the brain, increasing arousal levels, resulting in improved attention and a calm body
- Provide simplified yoga routines
- Try jumping jacks, or marching around the classroom (or at the desk)
- Try “animal walks,” such as bear walk, crab walk, or frog jumps
- Recess time with active play including running, jumping and climbing
Reducing Visual and Auditory Stimulus:
For those children who become overwhelmed with too much visual input, or noise in the classroom, try the following strategies to help them maintain attention and focus.
- Use low light, or natural light as much as possible versus fluorescent lighting
- Provide a “quiet space” in one corner of the classroom where children can complete work with less distractions (adding beanbags to sit in this space would be a great addition as well)
- Play quiet, rhythmic music
- Eliminate clutter on bulletin boards
- Place a curtain or sheet over open shelves containing games, art materials, toys that may be distracting
Chewing, biting, or sucking on hard, crunchy items can be very regulating and calming for kids with sensory challenges.
- Parents can pack chewy food items such as a bagel, or dried fruit to provide great oral proprioceptive input
- Teachers may want to allow a water bottle with a thick straw to be kept at the desk (adding a little lemon to the water may help arousal levels as well)
- Parents can pack a wide-mouth straw for eating items such as yogurt and applesauce
- Provide crunchy fruit and veggie snacks such as apples, carrots and celery