Heavy-duty activities for proprioceptive input in the classroom: for children with sensory difficulties
All children, but particularly those with sensory processing disorder, can benefit from classroom movement activities that deliver information to proprioceptive receptors in the joints and ligaments. In addition to providing exercise, these types of “heavy duty” movements make it easier for a child to focus and pay attention. For the child with SPD, it is vital to receive proprioceptive and deep pressure input throughout the day as part of what is called a “sensory diet” of activities. It’s not enough to get plenty of exercise and relaxing stimuli before or after school, or during an OT session. Most children with SPD need to be encouraged and guided to get the information they need throughout the day.
There are many ways to help children obtain this information within an ordinary classroom and school building. The child who is a sensory seeker will likely participate enthusiastically and even find her own ways to get the information she feels her body needs (however, be sure to guide her in finding appropriate activities). Conversely, the sensory impaired child who is under-aroused or avoids the senses may need to be reminded to follow the sensory diet established by the OT. In any case, while providing opportunities for participation is great, a child who isn’t disciplined or motivated enough to carry out a sensory diet on her own will definitely need guidance to make sure it happens. Since the alternative is a child who is unfocused, increasingly anxious and agitated, and progressing toward sensory overload and a panicked fight-or-flight reaction, such as aggression or total withdrawal, implement a sensory diet throughout the school day during the school day is crucial.
When you integrate these activities into the classroom routine, and other children can participate as well, you help the child with SPD not feel so different or singled out. If the child is the only one doing the activity, put a positive spin on it. Let him be the “playground equipment monitor” who carries the balls and equipment to and from the playground, or the “blackboard monitor” who wipes the whiteboard at the end of each day. You can even have a team of kids, including kids with sensory issues, in charge of washing desks or helping the janitor, and give them an honorary name like “clean crew.” All of these strategies will reduce the stigma for the sensory child who must have a sensory diet at school to stay focused.
Remember, the child who focuses on the discomfort of his body and his need to move may be courteous and obedient, appearing to be paying attention when, in fact, his mind is not on what the teacher is saying. By incorporating a sensory diet tailored to the specific and unique needs of the sensory child by a sensory smart school or private occupational therapist, you make it much easier for him to focus on what we would all like him to focus on: learning! If the child is verbal, be sure to include him in establishing a sensory diet. What works for one child may not work for another.
And check in on him regularly to make sure he’s really benefiting from the activities arranged for him, and make it a goal for him to advocate for himself and satisfy his sensory needs in a socially acceptable way.
Here are some easy ways to get deep pressure and proprioceptive input within the classroom and school environment (of course, the playground and gym also offer many more activities during recess and gym):
* Move stacks of books
* Delivering items from one classroom to another part of the building (especially if it requires carrying something and climbing stairs)
* Stack items, such as reams of paper, books, or storage bins
* Erase whiteboards and blackboards
* Move chairs or tables, put chairs on top of tables at the end of the day and put them down at the beginning of the day.
* Wash desks or cafeteria tables
* Assemble and store folding chairs and tables
* Carry lunch box containers in and out of the cafeteria
* Empty trash cans, sweep, mop
* Sharpens pencils with an old-fashioned hand-cranked pencil sharpener
*Assist the gym teacher or playground supervisor with getting out and putting away equipment such as bags filled with balls, mats, scooters, etc.
* Do laps around the gym or playground
* Climbing stairs
* Cut cardboard and heavy paper cardstock
* Do push-ups against the wall
* Do chair push-ups (holding the chair on either side as you sit, then push up to raise your body)
* Bounce while sitting on an exercise ball (loose or on a stand)
* Press your legs against a lycra band stretched around the legs of a chair or desk
* Sit on an inflatable cushion like the Disc O’ Sit
* Go up a ramp or incline, such as a wheelchair ramp or playground hill
* Keep heavy doors open or open them for people to enter or exit the building
* Pushes or drags boxes, carts, or furniture across carpeted floors.