50 ways to improve social and emotional wellbeing in the classroom

1- Create a safe space.

Every classroom should have a safe space, an area of the room where children who are feeling overwhelmed can go to unwind and gain control. The area needs to feel secure and safe whilst still being visible to adults. Cushions, weighted blankets, soft lighting, displays of words and symbols to help with talking about emotions can all be helpful.

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Supporting the sensory seeker in the classroom

I decided to tackle this area of SPD first because it’s the one I’m immersed in at the moment! The trickiest child in my class is a sensory seeker on a huge scale. She’s constantly in movement, she bounces, spins and jumps constantly. She never moves in as straight line preferring to literally bounce of the walls! She licks and mouth everything from my shoes to pencil and toys. She needs tangle toy after tangle toy at group time and each one only helps for a few minutes. She loves to bounce higher on the trampoline, cycle faster on the bikes and play the music louder than any other child in the class! She shouts when she should talk, runs when she should walk and is rapidly eating my entire snack budget!

I love working with her and she tries to hard but her sensory needs can be exhausting!

Things that have helped us are:

  • Sensory play and lots of it! From gloop to paint trays, warm water, cold water, ice, jelli-baff, corn kernels, pumpkin insides. Every day I try to put out a least two different sensory texture trays.
  • A huge basket of tangle toys- twisters, large beads she can chew on, balls and stress balls. They get swapped every few minutes. I can now do this without interrupting the flow of my sessions.
  • A spot on the carpet for her to sit in with sufficient space around it. She often falls over or her feet will go flying!
  • Plenty of outside time- bikes, trampolines, a birth ball and an office chair all let us fulfil her desires for sensory stimulation
  • Yoga, tai chi and relaxation time to try and help wind down- a weighted blanket helps!
  • Sensory timetables using smell and sound to help ‘cue in’ to what’s happening in the classroom

The main thing that that’s helped me?

A coffee and a scone as big as my head. Essential after a long week!
A coffee and a scone as big as my head. Essential after a long week!

 

Follow Helen's board The sensory seeker on Pinterest.

My favourite wooden sensory toys

I love wooden toys, easy to clean, beautifully made and offering a completely new textural experience for children who may spend much of their time surrounded by plastic.

Of course there are safety considerations when choosing wooden sensory toys, I tend to look for toys that are designed for very small children and are therefore designed to be chewed and mouthed and are painted with non-toxic paints and varnishes. Toys should be checked after every session for chips, sharp corners and damage.

Here are a few of my favourite wooden toys!

 

This is a lovely musical toy. Easy to hold and the bells and ribbons offer lots of auditory and visual feedback. There is a bell on the top so keep and eye on children who might chew or mouth this.
This is a lovely musical toy. Easy to hold and the bells and ribbons offer lots of auditory and visual feedback. There is a bell on the top so keep and eye on children who might chew or mouth this.

 

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Haba wooden musical egg. These are available in a range of bright colors. They are lovely and smooth and fit nicely into the palm of your hand. Shake them and they make a very soft, relaxing noise which children enjoy.
These beautiful little wooden season dolls are made by pocket treasures. They are not suitable for children who like to chew as they have small parts but they fit beautifully into a hand are elicit lots of intrest in our classroom!
These beautiful little wooden season dolls are made by pocket treasures. They are not suitable for children who like to chew as they have small parts but they fit beautifully into a hand are draw lots of interest in our classroom!
This Haba clutching toy consists of 8 colourful wooden balls connected by thick elastic. It makes a great twiddle toy or just a fun and involving item for your sensory toy box
This Haba clutching toy consists of 8 colourful wooden balls connected by thick elastic. It makes a great twiddle toy or just a fun and involving item for your sensory toy box
These blocks are filled with coloured liquid that moves slowly around the block. Coupled with a light box or jsut stacked on a window they're a beautiful and engaging toy.  I have a few sets of these mized in with other building blocks and a third in our colour treasure basket. Like any great sensory toy they seem to magnetically attract little hands!
These blocks are filled with coloured liquid that moves slowly around the block. Coupled with a light box or just stacked on a window they’re a beautiful and engaging toy. I have a few sets of these mixed in with other building blocks and a third in our colour treasure basket. Like any great sensory toy they seem to magnetically attract little hands!
This one needs a lot more motor skill to use but if you have children who might enjoy hammering it offer geat feedback as the balls roll noisly down the tower!
This one needs a lot more motor skill to use but if you have children who might enjoy hammering it offer great feedback as the balls roll noisly down the tower!

Sensory processing disorder

Sensory processing disorder describes (in very simple terms) a situation where the signals that various nerves and sense organs recieve don’t get organised into appropraite motor and behavioural responses.

So far so wooly and vague right!

I’m no expert, but like most teachers who work with children with a whole range of additional needs I’ve picked up bits and pieces about all sorts of things and sensory processing disorder is one that I often see characteristics of in lots of the children I work with. Now I can’t diagnose it and I can’t cure it but what I can do is be aware of it’s existence, alert for signs of it, refer to appropriate professionals (OT in our area) implement basic strategies that might help and then follow any reccomendations.

There are three main forms of SPD:

  1. Sensory modulation disorder
  2. Sensory based motor disorder
  3. Sensory discimination disorder

1. Sensory Modulation Disorder

The first is Sensory modulation disorder- this covers three main areas- over stimulation, understimulation and sensory seeking.

Children may be- over or understimulate by sensory infromation from the whole range of sense organs- touch, taste, vision, hearing, vestibular, proprioception and interoception. senses may all be overwhelmed or understimulated.

Children who are understimulated need much greater stimulus than others to react- for example they may have a low pain threshold, not be bothered by loud sudden noises or being pushed around in the playground.

Over stimulated childrenĀ  may retreat inwards shrinking away from the overwhelming information coming from their senses, or the may lash out trying to drive away the things that hurt them. They may complain of noises you can’t hear, smells you can’t smell, textures which seem smooth to you may feel rough and coarse and the lights in your classroom may seem to flicker and jump causing a continuous distracion.

Children who are sensory seeking have an intense craving for sensory stimulus- the chew on jumpers and hands, they run faster, climb higher and spin and spin. They want to touch, smell, taste and expereince the world in ways that may seem socailly and developmentally out of place.

2. Sensory based motor disorder

The second aspect of SPD is Sensory based motor disorder. This is where the child has difficulty planning and then carrying out movements in smooth, cordinated ways. This splits into two areas

Dyspraxia- The child with spidery handwriting who complains that their hand hurts after only writing for 5 minutes, who can’t catch a ball, whose shins are always bruised from banging into tables, who’s always late and disorganised as they can’y find anything and have no sense of time.

Postural disorder- This child struggles to maintain control of their bodies in order to do a task- they can’t maintain good trunk control so writing is difficult, they may struggle with jaw control so drool or chew with their mouth open, always clumsy and falling over games and PE can be a problem but this disorder effect stationary work too- even sitting on the carpet is tough for this child.

3. Sensory discrimination disorder

And finally Sensory discrtimination disorder.

This child has difficulites distinguising between similar sensations- they seem unpeturbed by bumping their shin but flinch when you tifckle their foot. They strip off their coat on the coldest day but shiver when they come in, sounds tastes and smells just don’t seem to come across quite ‘right’ to them.

Right- that’s a brief introduction to Sensory Processing disorder- perhaps you’re reading this thinking- yes that describe little Johnny perfectly. If so here are some more sources of information:

Sensational Kids OT center– basic information about SPD

The SPD foundation webpage

 

The Out of Sync Child- fantastic book with a tick chart to helpĀ  identify problems, pen pictures of children and ideas to support them.

 

Right- next how to support children with SPD in the classroom

Please feedback if you’ve found this helpful, interesting, useful or a good cure for insomnia! Thankyou