Kayla Bruccoleri is a mama and an occupational therapist based in Boston, MA. Between changing diapers and making snacks, she is a huge advocate for holistic wellness and equipping mama to care for themselves & their little ones at home. She can be found over on Instagram if you’d like to connect.
contributor post by Kayla:
I’d like to share with you all some “back-to-school” sensory strategies that can hopefully make the transition back to routines and schedules and school more seamless! Children in particular are very “sensational” — whether they are more sensory seeking or sensory avoidant, I am hopeful that you’ll find success in these different approaches & that you’ll feel empowered as a mama!
First things first- did you know that there are more than just the 5 senses?! Yes, we have two “invisible” senses — our vestibular system (located in our inner ear) and our proprioceptive system (located in our muscles & joints). These systems help us to make sense of our world, where we are, how fast we are moving, how high we are jumping, etc. They are crucial for helping us “self-regulate” throughout our days — Keep these two in mind as I share my strategies down below!
1. Use the power of music! Therapeutic listening has been proven to be very effective for helping your child focus at school, or to wind down at the end of a stressful day. Based on your child’s needs, try out some upbeat music before school to heighten their attention or try some calming music right when they get home to help them unwind. To learn more about therapeutic listening, look up “Vital Listening” and see if there is a certain soundtrack that may fit your child’s needs. For us, it looks like playing soft acoustic music in the morning to help my little one wake up, and in the evening we play calming classical music before bed.
2. Use the power of touch! Some children are very “tactile” seeking — meaning they love deep touch. A hug or a nice “burrito roll” in a weighted blanket before school can help them feel secure and focused all day long. Does your child come home wired or even maybe a bit anxious? If you can fit it in, try to make an activity out of a short “body massage” where you provide some sensory input to help them regulate their bodies. If you can’t fit it into your own schedule, you can provide “tactile” experiences for your child to participate in independently — such as using “play-doh” as a sensory fidget in their hand during homework time. Studies show that this input helps children to self-regulate and promotes focus and attention in the brain during learning experiences. Here is a recipe link for one that Casey shared on her blog a few weeks ago _____ .
3. Use the power of movement! Do you have a high-energy child who never seems to be able to wind down for homework or dinner time? Before asking them to do a task (try to remember they’ve been sitting at a desk most of their day), see if you can let them run around at a nearby playground, push them on a swing in the backyard, or see if you can assign them a “game” that will require a lot of muscle work (ex: carry all of the wood from the shed to the porch). This will help channel some of that energy and help them to focus for more important tasks they have to do at home! Many families that I have worked with also have found success with having a small indoor trampoline inside or even a tiny swing to hang from the ceiling.
4. Use the power of smell! Did you know the olfactory system (our sense of smell) is directly connected to the part of our brain that is responsible for emotions and memory? It is no wonder that more and more parents and professionals are recommending the use of essential oils to help our children focus, calm down, sleep, and more. When I am trying to help my son wind down, we diffuse frankincense and lavender. Another favorite is peace & calming, and we roll that right on his little feet. Essential oils are a wonderful tool for parents and professionals to use to help their little ones regulate!
5. Use the power of taste! Did you know that snacks can be a powerful tool to help your child self-regulate? Crunchy, chewy, salty — all different textures and tastes. They all provide oral sensory input which has been shown to improve focus and concentration. How do you know your child would benefit from this? Do they grind their teeth during stressful times? Do they constantly bite on their fingers or pencils during homework time? You could completely forego food and simply use oral stimulation like a rubber chew object for them to bite on during homework, or even a rubber necklace for them to keep on hand.
Ok mamas! I hope these 5 sensory strategies were helpful for you and that they make your back-to-school transition more seamless. Remember, home is our children’s “safe haven” especially after long days in the classroom. One last “fun” tip for you is to possibly consider incorporating ALL of the above strategies into one and creating “cozy corner” for your child to retreat to before or after school when they need a breather — maybe you put a fluffy blanket in there, some comfortable pillows, a sound machine to drown out the noise, a little “snack” corner — just a safe place for them to recuperate after a long day and press the “reset” button if their sensory systems need it.
Here’s to another school year!!!!