If you have gone back to school in person or are planning to soon, there are probably a lot of new protocols to learn and follow to keep everyone safe. As an OT, one of the things I often think about is how to incorporate sensory and movement breaks throughout the day in order to help students remain focused and regulated. Many of the activities we often use in the classroom may need to be tweaked in this new normal. Today, I want to offer some considerations for sensory and movement activities that can meet student needs while also maintaining social distance and adhering to safety precautions. Please be sure to consult with your OT who will be able to provide more specific recommendations for your students.
Kids need to play outside – I actually wrote an entire blog post about this! We know how important getting outside is in a typical year – it is an exceptionally good idea now! You will likely have more of an opportunity to socially distance outdoors than in the classroom, depending on the location of your school. One idea for helping maintain social distance while outside is having students sit or stand in hula hoops to give a visual boundary. Within that boundary, students could play with chalk or even engage with some educational materials. You could also play games like Simon Says, charades, or have a dance party. Even simply going outside for a story or short lesson can be a great option.
Offer more frequent breaks than usual
I have heard some schools are planning to have children remain more stationary throughout the day by not switching centers or classes. While this is an important safety consideration, some of those transitions are natural and very needed opportunities for children to get some movement during class. With natural movement of students throughout the classroom and school being limited, you may want to consider offering more frequent movement breaks that you would typically.
Consider individual sensory items
Jen talked about this idea in a recent blog post of hers as well. If there is an opportunity to put together individual sensory bins of items that can be easily sanitized and used only by the same student, it could be a great option for students. While my students are all currently remote, we did send home individual kits of materials, including theraband, fidgets, and playdoh for them to use during our virtual sessions.
Add sensory components to the child’s workspace
Since movement around the classroom and school may be limited, students may be spending more time in their individual workspaces or desks. There is a lot you can do within that space! You may want to consider flexible seating options that are easily cleaned, such as a wobble chair, move n’ sit cushions, ball chair, or even a standing desk. A bouncy band on the chair legs can provide some sensory input during work time. Individual fidgets or even a weighted lap pad (I love this one that is easily cleaned) can be good options as well. Please be sure to check with your OT before using any weighted items.
Consider activities that don’t require a lot of space or equipment
I know in the schools I work in, we are so used to engaging students in motor activities with shared equipment, using school jobs to meet sensory needs and accessing the playground regularly. These will likely not be an option now. Movement and heavy work activities that can be done individually and don’t require a lot of space or equipment will be the safest to consider at this time. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Use a visual cue next to the child’s desk to indicate where to stand
- Keep it simple. Just even standing up and stretching gets the blood flowing
- Simple yoga poses like mountain or tree
- Brain gym exercises. There are a ton of videos on You Tube with examples. Try searching ‘modified Brain Gym exercises’ if you are looking for videos with a slower pace.
- Chair or desk pushups
- Theraband exercises
- For additional socially distant gross motor ideas, check out this blog post from Pink Oatmeal. There are a ton of great resources on her site!
What about students who crave hands on pressure?
On one of Sasha’s recent Facebook live events, a participant asked how we can safely provide the sensory input a child seeks from a deep pressure hug. This is a great example of some of the problem solving we must do together as a team to ensure student needs are met but we are also staying safe. For our students who really crave that hands on deep pressure, it will be a little trickier to find activities to meet their needs. In addition to considering all the ideas listed above, you may want to also discuss these options with your OT to see if they are appropriate for your student:
- Weighted vest
- Weighted lap pad (this one is awesome!)
- Compression shirt (like a tight Under Armour shirt)
- Teaching the student how to do self compressions if able
- There are a lot of different ways to use a therapy ball for deep pressure input. Check out this video for ideas and be sure to discuss with your OT.
With a little collaboration and creativity, there are a variety of ways we can meet the sensory and movement needs of our students while maintaining social distance and other health and safety precautions. Please share any ideas you have as well!
This blog post is for informational purposes only. Please supervise children appropriately when engaging in activities. Consult your OT for specific recommendations for your student and prior to using any weighted items.
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This is a fantastic article. I enjoy helping my students find strategies so self regulate. Our school has a sensory cart that was used, pre COVID.
So great to hear! Thanks for reading 🙂