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Sensory Strategies for Focused Learning

Sensory strategies that can help your child learn?! Yes, please! Some kids have a very hard time focusing. This can be at home, school, or in groups. Whether or not your child has Sensory Processing Disorder, here are some great sensory strategies for focused learning.

Set the stage for success

First of all, doing a daily sensory activity diet, particularly before focus time is very helpful. You can learn more about doing a sensory diet here. Doing a sensory diet helps regulate a child. It also teaches their nervous system how to take in, process and respond to input better over time. It is so much easier for a child to focus on learning if they are feeling good in their body and ready to learn.

One of the components of a sensory diet, heavy work activities, is in particular integral in helping a child feel grounded and ready for focus. These types of activities are anything that needs good muscle activation- like push ups, yoga poses, animal walks and carrying heavy things. Before sending your child off to school or sitting down to do homework, try having them carry out the trash and hop like a bunny back to you. A little bit of muscle movement can do a lot to help them sit and study.

Some kids quite simply can focus and think better while moving. So how can they optimize their learning in an environment that needs to be quiet and calm for other kids to focus?

Change your chair

If your child is a mover, looking at how and where they learn is a quick fix. Do your best to explore options with the support of those around you. Enlist the teacher and others to discuss the things you see working at home and how you can best integrate them at school and other places your child needs to focus. Here are some of my go-to strategies:

Sit disc—these are inflated discs or wedges that can be placed on the child’s chair. This allows them to shift their weight and get minor amounts of movement through their pelvis. Some of these discs have bumps on one side to also provide a tactile input that can provide general “alerting” input.

Wobble and balance chairs—these are chairs that allow some balance type movement while sitting.

Theratube—these are stretchy tubes often sold at exercise stores. Wrap or tie some theratube around the legs of a child’s chair or desk so they can press their legs into it.

Standing—this remains my favorite and cheapest option. Talk to your child’s teacher about encouraging your child to stand quietly at their desk for breaks when it is practical for them to do so. Listening and reading can both be done from standing and often with good benefit! Even as an adult, this is a great strategy that I use regularly. Standing and doing a couple calf and toe raises increases blood flow and focus.

Fidget for focus

Sometimes just a tiny amount of movement or sensory input will help a child be able to focus on their studies. Try these out with your student and see what works best for them.

Fidgets—fidgets can be done well or poorly. It is important to know the purpose of a fidget and when to use it. A fidget should be used to provide a small amount of movement. The best fidgets fit in and only require one hand to use. Tuck a fidget in a pocket to use while they listen to a teacher or write with their other hand.

Doodling—this is a classic for a reason! Don’t assume that because a child is scribbling on the corner of their paper that they are not paying attention to what is going on. Often, this little activity allows them to tune in to what is being said. You may want to teach them how to draw small spirals, a spider web or geometric shapes to doodle in the corners of their pages.

Chewing—many kids use chewing as a way to focus. Chewing is actually a proprioceptive activity that provides deep input. You can try chewy foods like fruit leather or bagels or even allow them to chew gum if appropriate. Some kids who do really well with chewing would benefit from something non edible to chew (chewlry, a cleaned theratube attached to the end of their pencil).

Breathwork—just teaching your child to tune in to their breathing can help them restore their calm. Try having your child put their hands high up on their sides. When they breath in, they should push their rib cage out into their hands. Stoping to focus on breathing is a quick way to calm the nervous system. This is great to try before or after a test, or simply to get back to focus.

Take breaks

One of the biggest and most important strategies to use is to simply take breaks. Recesses, stopping to get a drink of water, getting up and stretching, or playing a short “move your body” game are critical in success. Bodies are meant to move. Make sure your student is getting plenty of opportunities to move theirs.

There are many sensory strategies that help kids focus on learning. Add them to your tool bag. Test out what is working best for your child. Don’t be afraid to go back later and try a strategy again that wasn’t necessarily a success the first time. Your child’s sensory needs and learning changes with time.

Enjoy testing these sensory strategies for focused learning!

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