Category Archives: Occupational Therapy

The Guide to the Perfect Sensory Space

The school and classroom provide a wealth of sensory information. Whether or not your students have special needs, processing sensory information can be a real challenge and also impact their behavior (e.g. difficulty paying attention, sitting still, working cooperatively with others, etc.).

Sensory processing difficulties arise when the brain can’t sort, organize, or integrate sensory messages. It’s like a “traffic jam” in the brain, with a few snippets of sensory information “stuck in circulation”. When this happens, certain parts of the brain don’t receive the sensory information they need to do their job1.

Providing a sensory space helps students to calm down and is a way to avoid disorganization. It’s a simple solution for improving social-emotional behaviors and beneficial for cognitive development.

What is a sensory corner?

A sensory corner is a designated area inside your classroom that is dedicated to supporting the sensory development of all students. It allows the child to take refuge there completely independently. Their withdrawal into this space helps them regulate their emotions and energy level in order to be more available to learn and interact with others.

A sensory space stimulates the primary senses, sight, hearing, smell, touch, vestibular and proprioception without creating overload because the senses are chosen on a voluntary basis.

The benefits of a sensory corner clock

The very preciouses moments, lasting at least 15 minutes, improves mood management by taking care of one’s emotions, increasing feelings of security, and help reduce agitation and apathy (lack of energy). No wonder they allow for the improvement in attention and quality of concentration.

Regulating our senses is important in maintaining our mental and physical well-being and self-esteem. The sensory space allows for wonderful one-on-one or supports a moment of guided learning, if the space is sufficient to accommodate the adult and the child.

How to design a classroom sensory space tools

  • It must be welcoming, comfortable and a defined space. The area has boundaries and is large enough to accommodate at least one seat (armchair, cushion, carpet, etc.).
  • Make sure the child will be isolated from ambient noise or the hallway.
  • Make sure you can adjust the light intensity or filter it. Some children will seek intense light while others will benefit from dim lighting.
  • Try to find a corner of the class where the student can have some privacy, out of sight of their peers. To enclose this space, you could use a curtain or furniture such as a bookcase or shelf.
  • Ideally, provide storage for the items or equipment that your corner will offer. The space should not be overloaded with things.

The objective is to be able to immerse yourself in a “cocoon-bubble” atmosphere in order to experience better sensory stimulation and enjoy all the benefits.

The effectiveness of a sensory corner has nothing to do with your allocated budget. It’s therefore not necessary to invest in expensive and sophisticated equipment.

What equipment should you provide in your sensory corner?

Your sensory corner can evolve over time and according to the needs of your students. Here are some suggested items that can stimulate the senses.

Touch

Smell

  • An accessory or cushion that you can put a few drops of essential oils on (ex: lavender)
  • Scented putty
  • Small cotton sachet (for the bottom of a drawer) with different smells

Sight

You could display or make available inspirational thoughts, relaxing music, pictures to color, breathing strategies, a timer to give child perspectives about time.

And the most important part

Once your sensory space has been established, take the time to show it to your students and teach them how to use it, when, and why so that they understand the purpose of this space.

It’s also important to display the tools and resources available in the space. Don’t hesitate, for example, to demonstrate breathing techniques in a large group so that they know how to repeat them when alone.

Having a space like this is a great way to implement social-emotional learning strategies in your classroom.

And now, play on!

-The manimo team

1Sensory Spaces in School 2021. National Council for Special Education, NCSE-Sensory Spaces in Schools

RAPPER SNAPPERS AKA POP TUBES in purple, red, green, and blue

Therapy Activities On A Budget: Rapper Snappers

Rapper Snappers are a multi functional therapy tool perfect for creating fun, budget friendly therapy activities! In this post, Physical Therapist and creator of the ABCs of Movement, Laurie Gombash, PT, M.Ed, shared five different ways to use Rapper Snappers (also known as Pop Tubes) as a therapeutic tool.  Be sure to check out her video below!

Demonstration of rapper snapper activity:  pulling a pink rapper snapper open

Arm Strengthening

Place hands on either end of the Rapper Snapper and pull! Work with the arms overhead to target shoulder strength or work with arms away from the body to target core strength. Target different muscles of the upper body  by pulling in different directions. Try holding the rapper snapper in one hand, at hip level, and using the other hand to pull up and across the body. Alternatively, hold the rapper snapper at shoulder level and uses the other hand to pull down and across the body.

Pro Tip, using the fingers to scrunch the Rapper Snapper back to size is great for finger strengthening!

Self Regulation

Rapper Snappers are a fun way to learn about self regulation.  Help kids visualize concepts like fast breathing or rapid heart beat by opening and closing the Rapper Snapper rapidly. Alternatively, demonstrate slow or rhythmic breathing by slowly pulling apart  or closing the rapper snapper.

Pro Tip, the sound made by the Rapper Snappers as it is opening and closing provides great auditory feedback!

Demonstration of rapper snapper activity:  squeezing a pink rapper snapper closed

Fine Motor & Motor Planning 

Looking for a fun and engaging activity? Use Rapper Snappers to make a marble run!  Bend and twist the Rapper Snapper to make a maze, drop the marble in, and let it run through.  Using two or three fingers to grasp the marble and inserting it into the Rapper Snapper’s narrow opening is a great way to get the small muscles in the hand working.  Planning a successful maze for the marble to run through takes planning abilities!

Pro Tip: This activity can be done holding the Rapper Snapper and moving the marble through or you can use Velcro or other adhesives to adhere Rapper Snappers to a wall or other vertical surface. 

Demonstration of rapper snapper activity:  blowing into a pink rapper snapper

Oral Motor

Shape the Rapper Snapper like a smile and try to imitate it with your lips, now flip it upside down to make a frown!  Purse your lips, give a big blow, stick out your tongue!  There are so many ways to use a Rapper Snapper to help build and strengthen oral musculature! 

Academic Skills

Use the Rapper Snappers to build shapes, letters, and numbers. Connect multiple Rapper Snappers for bigger numbers or shapes. Work as a team to build a giant letter on the floor!  

Rapper Snappers are a small, easy to transport, budget friendly tool that can be used across multiple settings and to target a variety of treatment goals making them the perfect tool when creating therapy activities on a budget!

Watch the Video!
My Motor Mats movement path, boy completing a crab walk on a black motor mat

Making Time for Movement Breaks

There is no doubt that movement is an essential part of the learning process but finding the time for movement breaks in an already packed school day can be hard.  However, with the ever growing body of research linking movement to academic performance (Petrigna et al, 2022)  finding the time for movement breaks becomes essential. So, how do you move? Here are some quick ways to add a little extra movement to the day: 

Add Extra Movement Opportunities Into Transitions

Movement paths (sometimes called sensory paths or motor paths) offer great opportunities to build in movement breaks during naturally occurring transitions, like changing classes.  The simple addition of movements like hopping, balancing on one foot, or turning in a circle offers an enriched movement opportunity that activates different sensory channels helping the brain get ready and be more receptive to upcoming learning activities.  

Add Movement To Academic Lessons

Reach those kinesthetic learners by incorporating movement into academic lessons. Readily available activities, like the ABC’s of Movement cards or the Drive Thru-Menus makes this easy to do!  Teaching literacy skills? Use visuals from the ABC’s of Movement to add an ‘Alligator March’ to letter A concepts or the ‘Penguin Waddle’ to letter P concepts.  Practicing spelling words? Try spelling each word while performing Angels in the Snow from the Drive-Thru Menus Body Challenge Exercises.

Don’t Just Take A Break, Take A Movement Break

During the school day there are naturally occurring breaks, such as transitions or when students finish up at different times. Fill these moments with meaningful movement opportunities. Use cards from the Move Your Body Fun Deck to add motor movements to transitions. The fun deck offers easy to grab, quick visuals with a variety of different movement activities; pick three for the day, display them on the board, and do each one a few times between activities for a quick brain reset! Use the Minute Moves or Focus Moves Bundles to establish Movement Routines. The Bundles are designed to provide easy-to-do, evidence-based routines to enhance academic skills. Another option is the Year of Mini-Moves for the In-Sync Child, which offers a weekly schedule of different movements that can be easily incorporated into the day.  

Create Accessible Movement Spaces

Getting outside often offers a plethora of opportunities for movement breaks but for the student who has gross motor challenges the opportunities can be limited.  Having a variety of activities available will help ensure students of all abilities are able to access movement opportunities.  For students who have difficulty with standard catch and throw ball games, offering alternatives like Magicatch, Beanbags, or Pezzi Activa Balls offers inclusive approaches.  For students who have difficulty accessing standard playground equipment, the availability of  parachutes, bubbles, or movement based games like Trunks can provide alternative movement activities at recess. 

Movement is a critical component of the learning process that can get overlooked during a busy, academic filled, school day.  Building movement breaks into already existing routines and schedules can help students move and succeed! 

Petrigna L, Thomas E, Brusa J, Rizzo F, Scardina A, Galassi C, Lo Verde D, Caramazza G and Bellafiore M (2022) Does Learning Through Movement Improve Academic Performance in Primary Schoolchildren? A Systematic Review. Front. Pediatr. 10:841582. doi: 10.3389/fped.2022.841582.