A relaxing summer can make it difficult to get back into the school routine … especially for children with sensory processing differences.
Depending on your child's unique responses to sensory input, they may benefit from calming or alerting activities before school. With a little creativity and planning ahead, you can give your child a strong start to self-regulation throughout the day!
Sensory input helps us learn about our environment and respond to it appropriately. Throughout the day, we experience many sights, sounds, textures, tastes, and smells. In addition to these five senses, we also receive sensory information from our vestibular and proprioceptive systems.
Many summer activities promote good sensory regulation. For example, swimming provides heavy work by moving through the resistance of water, tactile deep pressure with the weight of the water on our skin, and more deep pressure when we wrap ourselves up in a towel.
This type of input is calming to our sensory system. It is a little more challenging to think of activities that can promote self-regulation once the weather begins to change and our schedules become more densely packed.
The vestibular sensory system is responsible for detecting movement. It tells us where we are in space, how fast we are going, and if we are upright or not. It is closely related to balance and postural control.
The proprioceptive sensory system contributes to body awareness and understanding your body's position in space. We receive this input from our joints and muscles. It enables us to complete a variety of motor coordination tasks.
The sense of touch, or the tactile sensory system, protects us. It alerts us of dangers and helps us learn about our world.
All of our sensory systems influence our behavioral and emotional regulation, but the vestibular, proprioceptive, and tactile systems tend to have the greatest impact.
Some children are under-responsive to sensory input, meaning that they need a greater amount of sensory input than others in order to process it effectively.
Frequently, children who are under-responsive to sensory input will seek this input throughout the day. This may explain the constant wiggling and fidgeting students engage in while completing tabletop tasks.
Other children are over-responsive to sensory input, meaning that they are more sensitive to sensory input than others. They may become overwhelmed easily and perhaps even avoid settings or situations with certain types of sensory input.
At school, these students may have a strong emotional response to the fire alarm or feel anxious in the lunchroom.
Here are some suggestions to help your child be alert and ready to learn. These may vary depending on your child's mood, energy level and time of day.
If your child tends to be lethargic and sleepy in the morning, consider these alerting activities before school:
1. Jump on a trampoline
2. Log roll
3. Alerting sensory bins: rice, lentils, popcorn kernels
4. Exercise! Do jumping jacks, somersaults, cartwheels, or jump rope
5. Bouncing on an exercise ball
6. Wash face with cold water
7. Brush body with a feather
8. Go for a run or brisk walk
9. Walk along a balance beam
10. Sit 'n' Spin (controlled spinning, with no more than 10 consecutive rotations at a time)
If your child tends to be nervous, anxious, or hyperactive in the morning, consider these calming activities before school:
1. Ride a bicycle to school
2. Do "animal walks" (such as bear, crab, snake, gorilla, or frog)
3. Calming sensory bins: sand, lentils, beans, or shaving cream
4. Wall push-ups
5. Lay with your belly on an exercise ball, slowly rocking back and forth
6. Have your child lie between two pillows or cushions, then gently apply pressure to the top cushion – you can pretend they are a "sandwich"
7. Apply lotion, using firm strokes to provide deep pressure
8. Drink a thick smoothie through a straw
10. Give your child a bear hug as he heads off to school