by Marie Toole, MS, OTR/L
on the School Tools From Your Pediatric Occupational Therapist Blog
It’s February…and winter is digging in its heels! The groundhog says spring is coming early…yet here in New Hampshire we just got 8 inches of snow!. If you talk with any elementary school teacher the winter is never ending it seems! Getting the kids ready for outdoor recess is dragging on…and sometimes it is too cold to go out. What’s a teacher to do? Well, its easy to add some sensory and movement experiences throughout the day.
In the elementary schools I work in, we have added sensory and movement experiences in a couple of unique ways. A few years ago the physical education teachers and the occupational therapy staff collaborated on booklets we call “Classroom Rechargers.” We compiled 20 activities for each grade level that classroom teachers can do with their entire classes, with little to no equipment and little space. We made them developmentally appropriate for preschool through fourth grade. Each grade level’s booklet is unique so students don’t use the same ones over and over as they progress through the grades. Teachers use them frequently throughout the day, especially during transitions between subjects.
To access these booklets, click on the grade level that you are interested in:
Sensory Therapeutic Exercise Programs (STEP)
You may have heard the term “sensory diet” used frequently. Parents and staff alike seemed confused about that term so we now call it “Sensory Therapeutic Exercise Programs” or STEP programs. We collaborate with the classroom teachers and use their existing schedule and transition times to add STEP activities for their students. As they walk in the hallway to go to art class, the whole class may stop outside the art room and do wall push-ups. Or maybe the kindergarten class walks like animals on their way to use the bathrooms. As teachers finish math instruction and are moving into reading groups, many teachers will add a movement break to ease the transition. You will see some of our students in the hallway using jump ropes or medicine balls. We have many options for students to add sensory and movement experiences throughout their day. All students need a break now and then. One of their favorite STEP activities is “Go Noodle” There are so many to choose from and the students love them!
Another option we have for our students is Sensory or STEP Camp. Each morning at the first bell when the rest of the students are lining up to come in from before-school recess, we have a small group of students come to the OT room for STEP camp. We have created a monthly calendar for the school year and have designated 3 exercises each week to complete. The students come in, drop their backpacks in the designated spot, and get to work completing the activities listed. There are usually three activities, with two being heavy work type activities (such as Roman Soldiers, Cross Crawls, Jumping Jacks, Skier Jumps, or some other activity). We always end with a breathing exercise. We may use 6-sided breathing, Lazy 8 breathing, Hot Soup breathing from Zones of Regulation, or we may choose another breathing activity. Initially, the OT staff walked them through each activity. By this time in the school year, however, they are mostly independent in completing them on their own and we just supervise. The students are then allowed to get a “mouth tool” (a piece of sugarless gum and drink of water) before going to class. The students don’t miss any class time as this typically takes less than 5 minutes to complete. Our students generally benefit from missing the hubbub around the coat and backpack hooks in that early morning rush; so this helps them to start their day in a more positive and calming way.
For those students who have direct occupational therapy services included in their IEP, we start each therapy session with warm-ups. In our OT office, we have a bulletin board designed with choices for different warm-ups. These warm-ups are generally closely tied to what the students will be learning in physical education class. This gives them extra opportunities to practice skills that are typically harder for them. Our students just completed a fitness unit in PE class. In our OT sessions, we worked on crunches, planks, and long leg stretches as our warm-ups prior to our writing or “OT work” session. Next month our students will be completing jump rope skills, so we have started introducing jump ropes into our therapy sessions. Collaborating with the physical education teachers has been so helpful for all of our students.
There is plenty of research out there that touts the benefit of adding more movement experiences to our students’ school day. I am a big proponent of outdoor recess and activities that promote movement in school. Childhood obesity is a very real and dangerous malady affecting many of our students. Let’s do our part to help students get the physical exercise they need each day to be productive and engaged scholars!
Marie L. Toole, MS, OTR/ L, is a pediatric occupational therapist with 28 years experience in NICU, Early Intervention, and private practice with the last 20 years spent working in public schools. She is NBCOT and SIPT certified as well as a member of AOTA and NHOTA. She lives in southern New Hampshire and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MarieTooleOTNH, on Pinterest marietooleNHOT, and on School Tools for Pediatric Occupational Therapists where she tweets, pins, and posts about OT, education, autism, and sensory integration, as well as other school related topics.Disclaimer: The information shared on the Go-To-For-OT Blog or affiliated Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest sites, and shared on social or public media or as links on other sites is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors and administrator of these posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources. Photos are the property of the author or site owners and their use should include the link provided to the contributor’s source.