Inside: Sensory ideas that can be used in the classroom or home for helping kids focus and attend during learning using sensory strategies.
Heading back into the school year can throw some kids for a spin. The first few weeks can be a change in routine from the safety of home. For kids who are starting up on a homeschool routine, it can be difficult to pay attention when sensory needs and distractions are in the next room.
Sometimes, all it takes for an easy transition into the back to school days is a sensory strategy that meets the needs of the sensory child.
These sensory activities are ones that can easily be used in the classroom or homeschool room. They are strategies that can be incorporated into the student’s daily routine within the school environment. These activities are presented in calendar form for ease and planning, but they can be used in a classroom sensory diet or in various strategies. The ideas below are ones that easily allow the child to meet their sensory needs in a natural way, so that it is not an interruption to the classroom or other students. Rather, some of these sensory strategies are movement and heavy work-based ideas that can easily be adapted for the whole classroom for brain break type of activities.
As always, these sensory ideas are ONLY ideas and should be regarded as a reference. Every child is different and has different sensory needs. The ideas presented below are not regarded as Occupational Therapy treatment and should only be used in addition to and along with an individualized Occupational Therapy plan made following assessment.
Sensory Activities for Back to School and Classroom Sensory Strategies
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1. Wall Push-Ups- Show the student how to push against the wall while doing “push-ups” from a standing position. This is a great “brain break” activity that provides proprioceptive input for heavy work for improved focus, calming, and self-regulation.
2. Desk Fidget- Use a DIY fidget or a store bought hand fidget toy to allow the child tactile sensory or propriocpetive input to the hands for improved attention and focus while sitting and performing desk work.
3. Chair Push-Ups- Allow the child to push up from the seat with his arms, keeping the elbows strait. Pushing up through the arms provides proprioceptive heavy work through the upper body.
4. Move desk/furniture.
5. Erase the chalkboard or dry erase board.
6. Carry milk crates or plastic bins full of books or supplies from center to center around the classroom or from room to room in the building.
7. Shoe laces fidget- Add a couple of beads to the child’s shoe laces for a fidget toy that can be used discretely while sitting in floor circle time or during desk work.
8. Manual Pencil Sharpener- Turning and sharpening pencils with a manual pencil sharpener provides proprioception to bilateral upper extremities. This can be a good task prior to writing tasks.
9. Backpack for carrying supplies from room to room- Students can carry supplies to other classrooms in a backpack for heavy input. This can be a calming strategy while walking the hallways to other areas in the school as well, such as while walking to the lunch room or special classes. The hallway can be an overwhelming and high-sensory environment so deep pressure to center the child can be helpful.
10. Staple paper or remove staples from a bulletin board for upper body proprioceptive input.
11. Air cushion seating such as a wiggle seat cushion or a frugal, DIY version using a $1 wiggle seat cushion option.
12. Place chairs on rugs. Sliding chairs on classroom floors can lead to auditory overload for some sensory kids. Try using carpet squares under each individual chair. When the child pushes his chair out, he can slide the chair right on the carpet square out from the desk.
13. Hallway March- Get the whole class involved in a “walk this way” activity. They can march from the classroom to specials or the lunchroom. Try other brain break and whole body movements while walking in the line down the hallway, too: Try high knee lifts, toe walking, heel walking, elbows to knees, and patting the knees while walking.
14. Sports bottles for drinking- Sipping water through a long straw or sports bottle can allow the students to focus and attend given proprioceptive input through the mouth. This is a great whole classroom strategy for helping with attention and self-regulation.
15. Movement breaks in the gym or classroom- A quick brain break can help kids focus during periods of desk work.
16. Push mats in the gym- Moving those big gym mats is a great whole body proprioception activity.
17. Headphones for limiting auditory stimulation during center work or times when there is a lot of chatter in the classroom.
18. Visual picture list- A visual schedule can be a benefit for the whole classroom. Try this daily pocket chart schedule.
19. Simon Says Spelling- Try practicing spelling words with a movement and vestibular sensory input Simon Says version.
20. Play dough math for proprioceptive input through the hands. Try a math smash type of activity and use a heavy resistive dough like this DIY proprioception dough.
21. Use a kneaded pencil eraser for a hand-held fidget that doubles as an eraser with proprioceptive input.
22. Crunchy snack break- Try snacks like pretzels, crackers, kale chips, popcorn, or roasted chickpeas for an alerting snack.
23. Sensory bin for math or sight words- Add tactile sensory input to learning using a variety of sensory bin fillers. Ideas include shaving cream, shredded paper, crafting pom poms, among many other ideas.
24. Vibrating pen rainbow writing for sight word or spelling practice- Proprioceptive input to the hands can be very helpful for many kids, especially if they are writing with too much pencil pressure.
25. Jump/move/hop in hallway- Take a movement and brain break with a hallway movement activity. Add learning aspect with spelling, facts, or math.
26. Roll a ball between the legs- Add a vestibular aspect to vocabulary or themed learning, including history, English language arts, or science. Kids can answer questions and when they answer the question, they roll the ball between their legs by bending down.
27. Hopscotch Math- Add a hopping proprioception activity to the classroom with a hopscotch board created right in the classroom using masking tape.
28. Graph Paper Writing- Add a visual sensory twist to handwriting, math, spelling, or any written work by using graph paper. The added lines can be just the visual spatial prompt needed for kids with visual sensory processing concerns.
29. Make a desk sensory diet box- Use a dollar store pencil case to create customized sensory diet bins that can fit right into the desk. Items would be used specific to the child’s needs, but might include resistive putty, paper clips for fidgeting, or movable toys.
30. Wash desks with spray bottles.
31. Cut classroom decorations from oaktag.
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