As occupational therapists, we are tasked with assessing the sensory needs of the children we work with, and providing the proper sensory support for caregivers to help children manage the demands of daily tasks and environments. Finding sensory strategies for school can be a unique challenge: How much time teachers can allocate to support each student’s sensory needs? Can a student can use a strategy without it being a distraction to themselves or others? (think fidget spinners)
Occupational therapist are experts at navigating these challenges and communicating with caregivers and teachers. Here are a few examples of some of the more popular (and effective) classroom sensory tools:
Fidgets are one of the most common tools, but also one of the most difficult to select appropriately. A fidget is something that can be manipulated in-hand while focusing attention on something else. Just about anything that fits into the palm of your hand can be a fidget. There are fancy ones sold in stores, or very simple ones, such as a piece of velcro. As long as it is not a distraction to the child or other children, a fidget can be effective.
Chew tubes and necklaces are common oral motor supports, and are much preferred to chewing a sleeve or pencil. Some children respond really well to having something to blow or suck on, such as a straw, or blowing bubbles during a break.
Many children need extra sensory input to their body while they sit. As an alternative to crashing on the ground or wiggling wildly in their seat, both of which are quite distracting, there are two choices: One is placing an elastic band around the base of the chair. This helps children stretch their feet while they sit. The other option is a “wiggle seat” or “bumpy cushion”: An inflatable disc that can rest on the chair. This provides extra sensory input in the chair without the child needing to move their body drastically.
Opportunities for movement at intervals through day are important for any child, especially children in kindergarten and younger. Classrooms should be accommodating movement breaks to support children in improving their classroom performance. Some examples of movement breaks include animal walks (e.g: “frog jumps” and “bear walks”), wall pushes, trampoline jumps, and just about any outdoor play
Each child learns differently, and some require specific changes to their environment that take into account their sensory profile. Some examples include visual schedules, sitting at the front of the class, or having a partition on the desk to avoid visual distraction during work.
Remember, an occupational therapist can help figure out what your child’s sensory needs may be, and find the right tools to support your child at school.
Wishing everyone a great school year. As my grandmother used to say, “Have fun, but learn something!”
Blog post written by: Andrew Klein, MS, OTR/L
My son definitely benifits from the trampoline when he is having high energy. The squeeze fidgets are a great help to him when he is trying to focus. I’ve beeen wanting to try the wiggle seat for him as well. I think in addition to the squeezes this help him stay more focused while doing homework. Thank you for everything you do.
Great question! You could consider using different textured fabrics and materials to provide tactile feedback! Putting these textures onto something static, such as velcro taped under a table space at school, can eliminate the option to toss the fidget. Also, having the fabric in strips instead of in the form of a ball makes it less of a object that would be thrown. You could try lycra, fleece, terry cloth, etc. A general rule of thumb we teach our friends is that if a “tool” becomes a “toy” then it has to go away.
My son doesn’t have functional use of his right arm so most fidgets are not super helpful. We tend to lean on his chewy necklace and bumpy seat. Would love any ideas you have! Additionally, We also struggle with figits as they tend to be thrown, especially if he is agitated.
Sounds like your son has a great advocate in you, Brock! We love to hear about all the different tools that work for children. Every child is unique and so are the tools that help them find success! We like the idea of an icy fidget!
One of the most helpful tools for my son has been the “Gorilla Gym” (now called something like “indoor playground”) – the swing and rings are his favorite for meeting his needs. Also, he uses his chew necklaces a lot at school. I think the stretch band that his old preschool provided for his feet was helpful as well, though the foot roller could potentially work better. I’m guessing he would benefit from a bumpy cushion or another alternative seating option on the rug in kindergarten to help him focus. Also, a rainbow or icy fidget ball would likely help him at school. I think he would love a sensa-rocker or body sock at home to regulate himself.
Thanks for sharing Sarah! We love to hear about those moments where things start to “click!” It’s one of the many perks of this job!
Thanks for sharing your son’s successes! We are so glad that you and Lauren were able to find tools that worked for him and his sensory system!
So many things clicked for my son once we started implementing these tools. The stretchy bracelet to suck on, the gel squeeze balls with lights in them for him to manipulate, and the chair pad for his class chair. It allowed him to focus his attention! Thanks for educating us on this and opening our world to sensory needs. You all are the BEST!
For my son the best stress relievers are the chewy, trampoline and the spinner. I believe my child benefits greatly from having the sensory bin as well. His therapist for OT Lauren has introduced him to the sand and bean bin. He enjoys it everytime he comes. It is calming and soothing. It also helps him with sharing and taking turns.