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Movement and Learning: Understanding Sensory Integration

Take a moment and think about your daily routines.

  • How do I prepare for my day?

  • Do I have strategies for staying alert during long meetings?

  • How do I relax and regroup before time with family in the evenings?

Now think about these questions from the point of view of our students.

  • How can I transition from my quiet home to a classroom with many students?

  • How can I stay engaged during the work cycles and classes?

  • What do I do with all my energy when it’s time to calm down at night?

Just as students develop executive function skills to organize, prioritize and manipulate incoming information, they must also process and organize all of the sensations experienced from the environment. While we are most commonly aware of the sensory systems that process what we hear, see, smell, taste and touch, there are two other systems that also impact a student’s ability to function in the classroom: the vestibular system (awareness of movement) and the proprioceptive system (body awareness).

At times, students process all of this incoming information efficiently and make choices about how to stay calm, respond to the environment and/or stay alert and focused on the task at hand. Other times, the incoming sensory information is too much and the student is over-excited, unorganized, and unable to stay still. Alternatively, perhaps the student is not processing enough sensory input and is struggling to focus and engage with a task.

Our classrooms provide opportunities for students to meet their sensory needs in several ways. Peace corners, brain break stations, “Movement Matters” activities such as spot-scotch, and walk-and-talks around the building are just some of the ways in which students meet their sensory needs throughout the day.

Developing effective sensory integration strategies requires time and practice. Sometimes, help from an Occupational Therapist (OT) is needed. By analyzing patterns in behavior, the OT develops a ‘sensory diet’ designed to improve a student’s focus, attention span and ability to process environmental inputs.

If you are interested in learning more about the role of sensory integration, check out the book Smart Moves – Why Learning is Not All in Your Head by Carla Hannaford, Ph.D. You may get some new strategies for staying focused during long meetings, or get re-energized for an evening of playtime with your children!

For more information about our Movement Matters curriculum, check out pages 5–8 of our 2015–16 Year in Review.

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