I am currently helping one of my awesome elementary schools with ideas to build a sensory room/gym. A sensory room is a great resource for parents and schools to facilitate the sensory needs of a child in a safe way. In the picture above, you can see this is a pretty large sensory room. This was my gym in the first space that I leased for Learning Charms. The gym itself was a little over 1000 square feet. You can see the exposed steel beams in the ceiling which made it easy to hang swings. The owners of all the spaces I looked at thought I was crazy because the first thing I'd do was get a ladder and peep up in the ceiling -- looking for steel beams!
Below, you'll see a list and links to some must have's for your sensory room. A sensory room can be small-- you just will need to be careful and follow manufacturer's recommendations about padding and clearance. The recommendations below are for a medium sized (about a 10'x10') sensory room for kids aged 3.5 up to school aged children. The ideas below are all from Amazon and you can click and read more about the product. You can find these items all over the web, so look around and find what you need/want!
Lastly, you HAVE to supervise your child in a sensory room.
TO SWING OR NOT TO SWING?
This will depend on if you can easily tie into your ceiling for support. If you cannot, then it will depend on creating a structure that will support a swing (or buying one). A swing provides amazing amounts of proprioceptive and vestibular input, so if at all possible, get a swing system. If you don't have the ceiling support then look for swings such as below to use outdoors on a tree or existing playset.
I have a large painted on chalkboard in my OT gym (actually, I have several) and its hands down my favorite thing to use for handwriting development.
On this particular activity, I write a vertical column of letters (usually about 5-6 that the child is working on mastering identification), such as " N, M, X, O and B". I always throw in at least one letter that the child routinely recognizes. Then, I create a "code" around each of the letters. The example above shows a triangle around the M, wavy lines around the X, and so on. Then I write the letters on the left side of the board and have the child "code" each letter correctly, by using the key on the right. They should use the same color of chalk and same shape. A small sponge and spray bottle are available for mistakes and for after activity clean up.
What are some of the skills we are working on with this activity?
When you come into my occupational therapy studio or classroom, you'll find that several of the tables are coffee table height and without chairs. This seems to puzzle the kids I work with.
So, why no chairs? Well, I found out that little kids really have a hard time sitting in chairs. They fall out of the chairs, they wiggle in the chairs, they rock them back and forth..they do anything but stay in chairs. Kids don't want to sit ! They need to move. While we are working on fine motor or handwriting, we sit at my "kneeling tables". While working, the kids have the freedom for movement AND for working on trunk stability and core strength via long kneeling.
I always urge my pre-k and elememtary school teachers to use kneeling tables and any that have used it say the kids love it! Of course, it can be tiring, however, with 10 minutes a day (during a functional fine motor, art, or handwriting activity), kids can really benefit. From an O.T. perspective, this kneeling strategy not only improves trunk stability, balance and oculomotor skills but also can help with attentional skills. This is because the movement (and dynamic balance required) wil help give the sensorimotor centers of the brain input which in turn, generates better attention.
So, bring out the kneeling tables and see better developmental and attention skills!
Don't let the pricetag of the Handwriting Without Tears program keep you from making progress with your student or child. You can use the basic concept of the program without breaking the bank. Here are some of my Pinterest Fav's for HW Tears materials you can DIY.
I've seen where others used these stamps with play dough ( on Pinterest) but my Play Dough had tried out so I was happy to see that they work great with Magnetic Sand! I am always happy to find interesting ways to have my kiddos practice letter identification and handwriting.
I love that you can imprint a line (using a pencil edge or ruler) and have kids practice "writing" their words right on the line. This is a fun way to practice alignment.
How fun that this company also make lower case letters. I'll be making that purchase soon. Happy stamping.
Once a child has learned to identify uppercase letters, then its a good time to start learning how to "build" them . Its best to build the letters before actually writing them, because the building helps children remember the strokes needed and the large muscle movement is great because it helps them to integrate what they have learned. I used this simple activity with a child that was also working on core and upper body strength. He brought along a favorite stuffed animal, so I gladly let the doggie play too.
Platform swing or a therapy ball will work well too
Various wooden shapes (or make your own) from Handwriting Without Tears
Building Mat (in orange here, which is a 9.5x11 foam with smiley face in upper left corner)
Uppercase letter card (or if you child knows the strokes, then you can call out to them)
I spread out the shapes and he worked on finding and building each uppercase letter one at a time. I put some shapes further away so he'd have to pull and crawl to retrieve the shape (therefore using core and upper body strength).
Once he found the shapes needed, he built the letter on the mat beside the stimulus. You can modify the activity to be more or less challenging. For example: to make it harder, you could take away the stimulus cards and ask child to find a "big line and a big curve" and then see if they can make a letter with it (D).
Shelley Spangler Misiaveg, OT/L, found and shared this article with me. Its a great one that explains research regarding creeping, crawling and reflex integration relates to academic ability.
I love this stuff. Way back, us therapists had to order blah putty from rehab suppliers and although it worked, it was just, blah. Crazy Aaron has a variety of putty and kids love it. Adults love it. Other than being fun, and a tactile experience, what do therapists use it for?
Most of my kiddos I see at Learning Charms need hand and finger strengthening and tendon excursion. These things are necessary for proper fine motor skills (think handwriting and arts).
Often I use it initially for preschoolers who are not exhibiting a functional crayon grasp, such as in the picture here. In this picture, this little girl is using a whole hand grasp for drawing. She also has difficulty with buttoning, cutting and manipulating small items.
About the blogger: Stephanie Wick is a pediatric occupational therapist that founded and is lead O.T. at Learning Charms.
Read past Blog here