Most kindergartners can recite the common human senses -- touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing. But did you know there are actually EIGHT sensory systems in the human body? Did you also know that up to 16% of children struggle with sensory processing disorder (SPD)? Within that number, 95% are individuals with autism, 40% have ADHD, and 33% are gifted and talented.
Chances are, if you are a classroom educator, you have likely worked with students with either formal diagnoses like ADHD or ASD or students who are exhibiting behaviors and have needs associated with these learning disabilities. Or perhaps you can think back to students who have become easily overwhelmed, distracted, or discouraged in the classroom. Sensory needs could be a root cause. We are all sensory beings. Read on for tangible tips and tricks that support students with sensory needs and support ALL learners in your classroom.
Balance your seat to movement ratio. A good rule of thumb is that a child should be able to maintain attention for two to three times per year of their age. So a 6-year old might be able to give you (6x2 or 6x3) 12-18 minutes of focus. After that, it’s time for a movement break! This could be as simple as some midline-crossing stretches, a quick game of “Red Light, Green Light” or a Go Noodle video. Also keep in mind that your more unique learners may not be able to offer those general attention spans, so shorten your expectation if you observe that this timing is not right for your kiddos.
Take inventory of your students’ sensory preferences. Depending on the age you work with, you will need to craft an audit that matches the development level of your students. There are plenty of high-quality sensory preference assessments that help educators take stock of how their students prefer to learn. How many of your students prefer kinesthetic movement? How many need visuals to accompany content? Check out this assessment as an example and be sure to note the recommendations for different learners toward the end!
Get outside. This is easier said than done in some circumstances. If you can make it work and weather permits, bring your students outside for your planned lessons or just to explore the outdoors. Ask them to hone in on one sense at a time -- What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you see? Try a quick breathing exercise (box breathing is a simple one) in nature and ask students to discuss how they feel afterwards.
You are bound to meet and satisfy your students’ needs much better with these strategies. When sensory needs are met, the stage is set for higher order thinking and memory.