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.
If the Charlotte weather is keeping your kids inside, consider an obstacle course, like the one here in our gym. You don't need fancy equipment to do it. Obstacle courses are extremely fun for kids and they increase skills in: gross motor coordination, sensory processing, visual motor, sequencing, timing and even visual perceptual skills. A three year old can handle about 3 parts, while older kids (3td grade) should be able to complete 5-6 part obstacle courses.
On mine, I incorporated visual discrimination and matching with the white letters (face down) around the swing. The child had to match letters (visual discrim) of her last name while laying on the swing on her belly (core strength). She picked up the letter and propelled the swing with her arms (upper body strength) to match the letters.
If you have some cushions, pillows, and old comforters, then consider making a big crash area in your obstacle course. Kids love it and it is a great way to get some proprioception (think calming) on an indoor day.
This is a great article about Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and behaviors associated with SPD.
Most of our clients come to us to improve some component of handwriting (manuscript/print/cursive) skill. Parents often question why occupational therapists work with handwriting so much.
Handwriting is a very complicated neurological and anatomical process. Usually poor or inefficient handwriting or penmanship is most often the symptom of a developmental process that is not functioning smoothly. When a well trained pediatric occupational therapist evaluates handwriting issues, they should be evaluating specific developmental areas.
Optimal handwriting skills also require fundamental skills such as:
upper body strength
visual motor integration (also known as eye hand coordination)
visual perception (vision to brain processing)
pencil grasp, finger strength and
When children participate in needed occupational therapy, the child is more successful in academic work. Often, if a child does not make quick progress through conventional academic tutoring then the student may have a developmental need, not an academic need. If your child is typically developing and has participated in handwriting tutoring by someone other than an O.T. for more than 2-3 months without great improvement---then it is likely not an academic need.
Yesterday, our Mini Charmer's class enjoyed our rice tubs that had letter stickers "hiding" in them. The kids were instructed to find and then match letters (building a letter team) on the wall. The boys liked counting and keeping current stats. The "W" team ended up winning with the most! This activity helps with letter recognition (visual discrimination), sensory processing, pre-handwriting, fine motor dexterity and team work.
On the other center, kids were instructed to pick out a stencil and use 2-3 marker colors to create the design on a coffee filter. Once done, we put the filter over a white piece of construction paper. The kids then used a spray bottle to squirt about 5 squirts on the design. The colors bleed together to make a cool design. Kids will lift the coffee filters this coming week to see what kind of design it made on the construction paper. This activity helps with pencil grasp, non-dominant stabilization, truck stability, finger/hand strength, and sensory exploration.
Our weekly "Mini Charmers" preschool class gets to play with lots of messy sensory activities that encourage handwriting preparation. Yep, thats right. Work on handwriting without doing handwriting. In the studio, we had a few centers going at once.
Our first center was the cornstarch tubs. Lots of gooey cornstarch, mixed with water, washable paint and small things thrown in. Kids were Encouraged to find and pull out everything they could find-- from frogs to tiny perler beads. The cornstarch is resistive, so this works the finger muscles. The activity also encourages tactile processing as children have to distinguish between textures.
Another preparatory center was our "N" and "M" activity. They cut the big lines out of magazines and placed them on the construction paper. Building letters is a great reinforcer for visual memory of letters and for the stroke too. We use Handwriting Without Tears curriculum so there are lots of building and writing inside of boxes and with consistent language.
In another center were our clothespin activities. Miss. Kelly and the OT students made these foam sea creatures, etc, a few minutes before class. Kids loved adding legs and candles!
Then, we always have our group direct handwriting instruction for our letters of the week. These kids are laying on their stomachs as it increases core strength and helps their forearms and hands be in the correct position. You can see that these 4 years olds are writing their letters very well and independently. These are some bright Charlotte kids!
Our occupational therapists enjoy working with kids and making therapy fun. if your child is learning to recognize letters, up the challenge by offering letters turned this way and that in a bowl of non-letters. This challenge in picture actually uses water beads, which is a sensory experience in itself. The specific goal here is to increase visual discrimination (meaning, can the child recognize the upper case letter if it is turned a different way?). Once they find the letter, have them place on a line and see if they can orient in the right direction and perhaps spell out their name or another word. Have fun!
Make a "sensory salad" activity with your child. Hunt for scrap pieces of foam and paper that can be torn into small pieces. Ripping and tearing is perfect to strengthen little fingers. This dinosaur has a mixed salad with raspberries and blueberries! He also has a big strawberry (milk lid) on top! The variety of textures allows hands to experience and work with work unusual mediums.
About the blogger: Stephanie Wick is a pediatric occupational therapist that founded and is lead O.T. at Learning Charms.
Read past Blog here