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Today, we’re going to delve into a teacher-friendly, kid-friendly, and therapist-friendly approach to introducing fidgets and sensory materials into a classroom setting. If you’re a therapist, this would be an amazing multi-step, inclusion-based therapy plan.
If you’re a teacher, school psychologist, or guidance counselor who already has knowledge about sensory processing and you’re ready to take the leap on your own, this guide will be helpful to you as well!
What is a fidget?
A fidget is a small toy or object that a child (or an adult) manipulates in his or her hands while they’re reading, working, or listening.
Think about all of the ways we adults fidget throughout the day: we tap our pencil when we’re on a conference call, we twirl our hair while we wait at a traffic light, we play with a paperclip during a long meeting. Why?
Fidgets provide us with subtle movement and touch input that can help calm our bodies and keep our minds attentive, alert, and focused. Movement has been found to be a powerful component of focus and problem solving and fidgets provide an outlet for small movements of the hands while we work.
The need to fidget can be fulfilled by using something as complex as a commercially fabricated fidget toy with moving parts or something as simple as a piece of paper that someone folds and unfolds with their fingers. While some teachers and parents may think of fidgets as being distracting, when they are introduced in a thoughtful, structured way, they actually support students’ attention and learning rather than distracting from it.
How to Introduce Fidget Toys in the Classroom (Along With Other Sensory Materials)
1 || Introduce the sensory systems and talk about how they work.
No one can be expected to understand how to use fidget toys and other sensory materials if they don’t know how sensory processing really works.
And, if you’re picturing a good overview of the 5 senses (hearing, touch, sight, taste, and smell), you’re on the right track! But did you know that there are actually 7 sensory systems? Don’t forget to include an overview of the vestibular and proprioceptive systems too! These are the sensory systems that have to do with movement.
Give kids hands-on experience with their sensory systems and allow them to experiment with different types of sensory input while explaining how sensory processing works.
There’s a great page in our Magic 7 guide called “What is Sensory Processing?” as well as an entire lesson plan that allows kids to explore their sensory systems by exploring various sensory stations.
2 || Have kids explore their own unique sensory preferences
Now that everyone understands the sensory systems and how they all work together, it’s time to teach kids that we all have our own unique sensory needs and preferences.
Reassure kids that their sensory preferences and aversions, as long as they don’t stand in the way of daily life, are normal! They’re more than normal…they’re what make each of us special and unique!
Talk with them about the sensory experiences they find enjoyable and about the ones they really can’t stand. This is usually a really fun and lively discussion, as it validates everyone’s needs and differences.
As part of the discussion, ask kids what sensory experiences might help them stay calm, alert, and attentive in school. If you’re using The Magic 7 guide, the Sensory Preferences worksheet and the Finding a “Just Right” Feeling pages will be perfect to use here.
3 || Make your sensory materials list
Once you’ve helped the kids identify their preferences and what works for them, make a list of the items and strategies you’ll include in your classroom fidget and sensory kit. Include items that will address the preferences and needs you’ve identified in the group of students.
Instead of calling the sensory materials “toys”, consider reframing the items as “tools” to support their learning.
Possible items to include in your kit:
-CD or website with movement break songs/videos
-a quiet space in the room
-headphones with quiet music or white noise
-photos of different stretches or a yoga deck
–clipboards so kids can work in different places away from their desks
-putty or play dough
Ideally, you’ll have lots of options that will appeal to different types of sensory needs and preferences. Some kids will need sensory strategies for calming, others will need sensory strategies to help with attention.
4 || Have everyone pitch in.
Having kids help assemble and create their own classroom fidgets and other sensory materials creates a sense of ownership and responsibility. Bonus…it’s also super fun!!
Set a couple of class periods aside to have kids work together to make their own materials to add to the classroom sensory kit! In the list above, you’ll find links to a few DIY sensory tools. This is also a great time to demonstrate and let kids experiment with how the materials should be used. Maybe even some “what not to do” examples would be helpful too!
When you’re finished, have kids help to label, organize, and store the sensory tools in an accessible place in the room.
5 – Create a Sensory Kit Contract
Divide the sensory materials into two categories: items that can be used during learning activities and items that can be used at break times throughout the day. Discuss how and when kids can request the materials or if there are certain materials that they can access without needing to ask permission.
Examples of rules/responsibilities to include in your contract:
-Be responsible for the items in our sensory toolkit – take good care of our tools!
-Wait for break times to ask if you can use a break-time item from the sensory kit.
-Raise your hand to ask to use learning-time items from the sensory kit.
-The items in our Sensory Kit are for all of the students in our classroom. Share and take turns.
-Use the items wisely to help you pay attention and calm your body, not to distract yourself or others.
If these rules and expectations are a fit for your classroom, download and print a copy of our free fidget and sensory toolkit contract to post on the wall!
Be sure to take a look at our Magic 7 Guide to Teaching Kids About Sensory Processing! It’s an awesome tool
The Magic 7 guide is a colorful 22-page downloadable resource designed to teach children about sensory processing in an engaging, hands-on way.
Ideal for use in a classroom or in a small group setting, the digital lesson guide includes:
-An overview of sensory processing and the sensory systems written in kid-friendly terms
-Icons and activity descriptions for 7 hands-on Sensory Exploration Stations
-Printable worksheets to help kids explore their unique sensory preferences and strategies for finding a “just right” sensory feeling
-An instructor’s guide complete with discussion questions, explanations, and quick activities to demonstrate each of the sensory systems
What are your favorite ways to incorporate movement and sensory input in the classroom setting? Leave us a comment below!
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