Part 1: Preparation for a Sensory Path
Have you seen an increase in the number of students who seem to seek extra movement throughout the day? Do you see a number of students who struggle to stay focused during academic tasks? What if sensory paths could help?! You may already be familiar with the terms sensory paths (or walls). Videos have been popping up all over social media! While “sensory” has become quite the buzzword in both special and regular education, occupational therapists have long been experts in this area! They are trained in the neurology related to how our bodies and brains process sensory input from the environment! OTs and PTs are great school professionals to consult when considering adding a sensory path to your building!
Research tells us that physical activity improves attention-to-task in all children! Using a school-wide tool like a sensory path is a great way to increase focus and attention to cognitive tasks by providing a fun and structured movement break! Before you try to implement something like this, there are a few things you should do in preparation:
- Get by-in and permission from administration and custodial staff
- Involve the teachers and other staff members to gain interest
- Determine how you are going to fund the project
- Find a location, make/order your components, and get the sensory path up
This is not a situation during which you want to seek forgiveness afterwards rather than asking for permission in advance! There are quite a few team players you want to have on board!
One of our building principals brought up an interest in getting sensory paths added to our elementary buildings! However, if you are a therapist or teacher looking to bring up the idea, I would first start by getting building [and then district] level administration by-in. Do your research and find the evidence that supports these types of interventions! There is more and more coming out! Focus on how a sensory path has school-wide benefits; not just support for special education.
Don’t forget to loop in your custodial staff or the head of building and grounds operations! These are great people you should get to know at school no matter what! Since sensory paths are often made with vinyl or other permanent or semi-permanent materials, there are often some restrictions. At my district, due to the way they wax the floors, we were not able to put anything permanent down on the tile. We only used vinyl on the walls. Poly spots, rope ladders, etc. could be stored, then utilized only when the sensory path was in use!
You can even collaborate with the PE teacher! See if the sensory path can be part of the PE requirements! Make sure to have approval for the space you are thinking of using as well! For example, are there bulletin boards currently in the hallway that you would want taken down? Can you do that or do they need to stay up for a specific reason?
The sensory path is not just going to be used by therapy staff! Since teachers, paraprofessionals and students are all going to be utilizing these, get their input! Provide the teachers with some general information and/or research regarding sensory paths and the importance of movement breaks. Collect teacher input and thoughts via a survey [this is great to share with administration when getting approval]. Know what types of needs/concerns teachers are seeing. Then, figure out if you can address those with the elements of your sensory paths! No two paths are the same! They can be customized to the needs identified by your building!
In my district, we have found that providing in-service training has been really helpful! Since our sensory paths are new, we have not yet provided school-wide training on their use. That is coming soon! However, our therapy team has created a district-wide Google Classroom [pictured above] to house sensory-based information. We have videos for how to use sensory equipment/tools, copies of our previous trainings on sensory breaks/sensory rooms, as well as video demonstrations of how to use the sensory paths. Speaking at faculty meetings [even for a few minutes!] or requesting to provide a training during in-service days or before/during/after school is another great way to make sure that your sensory paths are both understood and utilized to their full potential!
There are several ways to go about getting a sensory path in place at your school. As I always say, you don’t need big fancy equipment to provide rich and beneficial sensory experiences to students. However, there are pre-made and commercially available ones out there if you have the funds!
In the case of my school district’s journey to get sensory paths in each of our elementary buildings, we applied for a grant to purchase customized vinyl! A local company was able to use our ideas and measurements in order to make unique sensory paths for four buildings! Look into grant funding in your local community, and see if a group of school staff can team up to apply for the grant together! Some PTOs also have funds that they are looking to allocate towards creative school-wide initiatives! Consider presenting to parent associations or hosting a fundraiser at your school to raise funds!
You can always make your own materials! Laminated items hung on the walls, colored tape on the ground or the use of removable materials your school may already have [like poly spots, jump ropes, rope ladders, hula hoops, etc.] is also great! There are tons of ideas on Pinterest and all over the internet for ways to make sensory paths for any sized space and budget! Check out Whitney’s DIY Sensory Room blog to see another example of how it is possible to provide a variety of sensory experiences without a bunch of expensive equipment/materials!
Once you have approval, interest, and funding, the fun can begin! What elements do you want to include in your sensory path? I recommend focusing on multi-purpose elements and tasks that can easily be upgraded or downgraded since there will be a variety of students [in both age and ability] using the space!
For example, our sensory wall has visuals of yoga poses in it. While the visual demonstration may be sufficient for some students, we also added moveable foot-shaped poly spots for students who may need support to get into the different positions!
Next, make sure to think about what sequence makes sense! We started our paths with activities that activate the mind and body together! We have wall push ups with sight words, a large finger maze, and an alphabet upper/lowercase letter match [scanning and crossing midline to touch on the wall]. Our sensory path has more physically active and alerting [i.e. jumping] activities set up on the floor which we made the “middle” of the sensory path. We made sure to end the path with yoga poses, and finishing up with deep breathing [star visual below] so that the students can return to class with a calm body, read to learn.
Lastly, make sure you are conscious of how much space you have! Make sure to measure and re-measure so that you are confident your items will fit in the order that you want them! The size of the space we have in each building is vastly different. In order to have all of the same elements in each location, our vinyl needed to be scaled in relation to the allotted space.
Now you are ready! After you have all of the above figured out, you are ready to install and implement the use of your sensory path! Check out Part 2 of this series to learn more about the benefits of sensory paths, potential uses, as well as suggestions on how to train staff and students for effective use! Do you have sensory paths at your schools? I’d love to hear how you made yours and what has worked well for your students! Share in the comments!