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Sensory Corners for Pediatric Occupational Therapy

Why don’t we use sensory corners to create a space that is safe, comfortable, and conducive to learning?

Being able to get you kids regulated enough (whether it’s calming down or revving up) to return to class, therapy, or playtime is crucial to occupational performance. Everyone wants to feel at home and comfortable in their own skin, right?

Here are a few simple steps to follow when considering your sensory corners.

What would you do?

Consider yourself first! Think about some of the strategies that you use either intentionally or automatically when you’re stressed out and in need of a break. Why reinvent the wheel when you can just apply some of those strategies at work with your kiddos?

Make it feel like home

Think about some of the things you do at home to relax or take a load off. Do you turn down the lights, put on soft music, make a nice cup of hot tea, or drink a refreshing glass of lemon water? Go through your mental checklist or write down some of the ways you reach your senses at home.

Provide options, but keep it simple

Options are wonderful. Until there are too many and things get overwhelming and complicated! Pick a system and stick to it. Identify the best organizational system for you, your population, and the area you’re working with. Organize your materials accordingly. Boxes, bins, crates, laminated ring clip cards, etc.

Now, after thinking about your preferences and sensory profile. Think about how you can apply them to your students for optimal sensory corners.

Breaking through the Zones of Regulation

Green Zone Solutions

The Green Zone is that “ready to learn” or “calm” phase. Just because your client is in the Green Zone doesn’t necessarily mean that she can’t take a break. Think about those times when you get into a good flow at work. While you may be cruising right along, it’s sometimes still nice to make a quick trip to the break room for a sip of water, a snack, or some fresh air. Our students and kids we work with operate the same.

They just may need some suggestions from us to initiate that. Staying stocked with cups or water bottles, healthy snacks, and some quiet outdoor activities may be a great way to keep that attention going. Staying refreshed is a great way to last throughout the day.

Blue Zone Solutions

When in the Blue Zone, one may be feeling sad, tired, bummed out, or sick. What are some of the things you like to do or gravitate towards when feeling this way?

Think about how you could apply these strategies and bring these options to your workplace for the benefit of the kids you work with. You could take a quick nap, have a warm drink, take deep breaths, go for a walk. You may even listen to music, read a book, or talk to a friend.

Yellow Zone Solutions

We have all spent some time in the Yellow Zone. When we’re worried about a class, feeling a little nervous about a meeting, or when we are excited about that vacation we just booked. Although one may not first realize it, there are many potential stressors in the pediatric world including forming friendships, starting a new school, joining a sports team or hobby group, studying for a quiz, learning a new subject.

The list goes on and on.

Put yourself in their shoes. What would you do if you were in the Yellow Zone, or trying to get back into the “ready to learn,” Green Zone? Many of the options proposed for a Blue Zone break, also work great here!

Red Zone Solutions

Some of the Red Zone emotions come up when someone calls us a name, pushes us down, or when we become angry, upset, or frustrated.

When in the Red Zone, the child may need space and/or guidance to help calm down or process through the situation.

Having a stress ball or something to keep one’s hands occupied may be a good strategy. Bubbles, stimulating pictures, and proprioceptive exercises like push-ups may be some other good strategies.

Conclusion

Try to relate these options back to your personal choices. What would help you feel better if you were feeling sick? Would you want to lay somewhere quiet and cozy? If you felt anxious or uncomfortable, would a private area in your home or workplace help while you are there?

By staying true to our own lives, I believe that we can help our students and the kids we work with to normalize and integrate some of these break choices. Making them more accessible and successful!

About Lauren Elitzak, OTR/L, PT, DPT

Lauren Elitzak, OTR/L, PT, DPT
Lauren received her Master's in OT in 2012 & her Doctorate in PT in 2013. She enjoys working in pediatrics, and believes that her greatest teachers are the kids she works with!

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