Many kids have a hard time paying attention for extended periods of time during school whether that’s in person or virtual, because their sensory needs aren’t being met. What one child needs might be different from the next. In this blog post we will discuss different activities and strategies you, the parent or teacher, can utilize in the classroom or at home to improve your child’s ability to attend to their academics.
In the schools, many teachers biggest challenges is getting children to pay attention to what they are teaching. There are students who have attention and focus issues that impact learning. Classrooms are a busy place, and when sensory issues impact the ability to pay attention, focus, self-regulate, and interact with others, learning can suffer. Sensory issues are often times, the underlying reasons for impaired functioning in the classroom. For some children, a sensory diet activities for the classroom can help.
The classroom can often be a challenging environment for a child with sensory integration dysfunction. Teachers can improve these students’ comfort and behavior through the use of sensory integration activities. The activities are aimed at improving a child’s ability to concentrate, remain calm and stay still. Many children have difficulty staying still all day even when they don’t have any sensory deficits. Problems with sensory integration can make sitting still even more challenging.
Teachers can implement several strategies to address this issue. An inflated seat cushion is often helpful in providing a little movement without having the child move around too much. The natural bounce that these cushions provide gives your child the feeling of movement and enables him/her to sit still for longer stretches.
Most children also enjoy the opportunity to get out of their seat and go on classroom errands or hand out worksheets to the other students. Teachers can really help these students by finding appropriate tasks that involve movement and activity throughout the school day. It is also great when all the students can be given time to stretch, do jumping jacks or just move around a little between lessons.
For children who fidget a lot, special fidget toys can be helpful. Hand exercisers, stress balls and other non-distracting hand-held items can contain the fidgeting and prevent it from getting out of control. Stores that carry teaching supplies frequently carry a selection of fidget toys that are appropriate for use in the classroom.
Some kids need more sensory input than others and they might require more assistance from an Occupational Therapist to figure out what the best sensory diet would be for them. Below are some ideas you can use for all types of children.
The information listed below includes effective strategies for helping kids who are distracted, inattentive, disorganized, irritable, sensitive to sensory input, and/or seeming to have other sensory-related behaviors.
SENSORY DIET ACTIVITIES FOR THE CLASSROOM
Sensory diet activities in the classroom are extremely varied! Each child will crave or avoid different sensory input that naturally occurs in the classroom. Sensory diet activities can be integrated into the school environment using materials right in the classroom. Try some of these sensory diet activities:
- Move classroom furniture at the beginning or end of the day.
- Erase the Smart Board using a cloth.
- Add moveable or alternative seating options into the classroom (chair cushions, exercise ball, exercise ball with feet, standing at easels, bungee cord added to the chair legs, scoop seat, bean bags, lap desk, lying prone on the floor, etc.)
- Carry library books from the classroom to the library.
- Move equipment from classroom to classroom.
- Give the student a “job” to carry a box of materials to the office each day.
- Allow the student to sharpen pencils using a manual pencil sharpener.
- Add extra playground time into the schedule as a reward.
- Provide movement breaks for the whole classroom.
ADD CALMING SENSORY STRATEGIES TO A SENSORY DIET FOR THE CLASSROOM:
- Provide a warm blanket for cozy reading in a bean bag chair.
- Create a calm-down space in a cardboard box.
- Create a whole-classroom stretch break with yoga or rhythmical knee/shoulder patting and rocking.
- Ask the whole classroom to play “Simon Says” with face and mouth stretch exercises.
- Allow wall push-ups and chair push-up breaks.
- Encourage the child to blow bubbles at recess.
ADD CALMING MODIFICATIONS TO THE CLASSROOM:
- Turn down the lights for a calm-down break.
- Seat the child away from high-traffic areas.
- Use soft voices during classroom instruction.
- Remove fluorescent light bulbs from the area above the student’s desk.
- Allow the child to wear headphones to block out environmental sounds.
- Minimize overwhelming visual environmental stimuli by using natural light.
- Provide a calming/quiet corner where kids can go sit with noise cancelling headphones or calming music to listen to.
ADD ALERTING SENSORY STRATEGIES TO A SENSORY DIET FOR THE CLASSROOM:
- Play “Simon Says” with light touch to the face and palms.
- Movement breaks with jumping jacks or burpees (if the space allows).
- Show students how to briskly rub up and down the arms to “wake up” the arms and hands.
- Provide classroom-friendly fidget tools such as a DIY pencil topper.
ADD ALERTING MODIFICATIONS TO THE CLASSROOM:
- Have crunchy snacks available: dry cereal, pretzels, celery, raw carrots, etc.
- Use modified writing utensils such as modified surfaces or writing utensils.
- Provide visually stimulating writing paper with high-contrast lines or writing spaces.
TYPES OF LEARNING
Teachers can also provide different styles of teaching. Some kids learn better with visuals (written or pictures) while some might do better just listening to the teacher. There are also kids that need to touch (tactile input) or move their body (kinesthetic) in order for them to learn the material. Teachers can further help their students by recognizing their special needs and modifying their programs and lesson plans accordingly. Does your child have difficulty following instructions? Perhaps the teacher can provide both oral and written instructions. Pictorial instructions might also help. Having the child repeat the directions is a good way of making sure that the instructions were heard and understood. Your child might also lack organizational skills and have difficulty remembering homework and assignments. Teachers can help by packing the child’s schoolbag or providing a second set of textbooks to keep at home. For children who do poorly on tests or written assignments, some other modifications might be required. Some children benefit from being given extra time. Others may do better when they take tests in a quiet room away from distractions or are given the opportunity to dictate their answers or use a computer to type written work.
Children with sensory integration deficits are often challenging students. It may seem that they act up a lot or don’t participate well. These students generally do better when they have few distractions and more opportunities for physical activity. Activities that involve role-playing, building models, lab work and field trips are usually more successful. This may not always be practical, but whenever possible, these types of activities will be beneficial.
You can also help by limiting distractions in the classroom. Finding a seat away from windows, doors, direct sunlight and other distractions is important. Your child will probably do best near the teacher where there is less visual stimulation and the teacher can keep a closer eye on his/her progress. Teachers can also increase classroom success by using well-designed visuals such as maps, charts and pictures. Children process information better when it is well organized and clearly displayed. Using different colors to organize information is good. Smartboards, pictorial worksheets, and use of white boards/chalk boards can help improve your child’s comprehension.
These activities can also be used at home if your child is doing virtual school. Paying attention all the time in a classroom is already hard enough so it can be even more difficult to pay attention while learning on a computer. Try to be patient and figure out which strategies work best for your child.
Overall there are so many ways for teachers to implement sensory input in the classroom while also incorporating it into learning. Pinterest is a great go-to for lots of ideas for teachers. We would love to know what tips and strategies help your children focus better in the classroom!