Young Child Expo 2019

Yesterday I presented with my Rebecca School colleague Allison Johnson at the 2019 Young Child Expo here in NYC!

Allison is an occupational therapist who works with me in one of my younger workshops and has helped me integrate movement into those sessions. More than that, she’s been a teacher, taking the time to give me a deeper understanding of movement and the body’s sensory system.

She has such an amazing sense for what will help each poet in our workshop. I often find myself referencing her for what movements we should do. It’s truly a super-power, this seemingly innate sense that “oh, yeah, bear walking right now will help this poet regulate.” I can’t gush enough!

I’ve put up our slides on SlideShare. As a note, we had a fairly video heavy presentation culminating in a twenty-minute case study of one of the poets. These had to be removed for confidentiality so there are some blank slides and slides that just have titles.

That said, the SlideShare presentation still contains great information about the movements we use in the workshop and why we use them.

Give the presentation a view and if you find the information useful, feel free to share it around with your friends, colleagues, and admin!

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Wall Writing

As I’ve mentioned in other posts I keep the workshop spaces completely clear except for the essentials. For some groups that’s chairs, for others it’s movement ques, and for still others it’s nothing at all!

As one of my workshops is focuses on writing longer and longer texts like sonnets, there wasn’t a great space for the poets to write.

Bringing in a table with chairs or some desks was a possibility, but that always felt like a big transition to have in the middle of a session. The alternative, having the poets lie down or hunch over while writing, is poor form both in terms of posture and mechanics.

Colleen Gabbert, my OT colleague who facilitates this session with me, recommended taping paper to the wall and having the poets stand and write. This little change has made a huge difference!

Not only are their body posture and fine motor work better, but the poets who might otherwise need sensory breaks from sitting are able to engage in the writing activity for longer durations. I imagine because they’re not getting as tired from using only their core to support them or (when they can no longer support themselves) hunching over and losing focus on the group activity.

I’ve noticed that standing also allows a more seamless sensory release. For example, poets can rock or pace if needed while thinking of the next line while. When sitting, the poets had a tendency to stay seated or if they stood up it would be to move quickly around the room or leave altogether for a quick break or support in the hallway.

Some of the poets prefer staying seated and when they do I try to encourage that they use a binder or book to hold the text so that they sit up right. It certainly isn’t perfect (old habits die hard), but for the poets who accept the tool of wall writing it’s helped immensely!

Just a reminder that if things are feeling a bit stilted or stale in your class or sessions, the answer isn’t always a big change. Sometimes all you need is a different perspective (make friends outside your department!) and a couple pieces of tape!

A hand holds a pen to a piece of lined paper taped to a white school wall.

A hand holds a pen to a piece of lined paper taped to a white school wall.

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Sensory Supports

Working with a population of learners who have a wide array of sensory needs means adapting the classroom space to meet those individual needs. As I reflect on this past semester I wanted to create a little list of some easy sensory supports to include as part of a workshop, or classroom, environment.

 One easy thing is alternative seating like a yoga ball. The bouncing of the yoga ball can help offer input for students to be more attentive and engaged in the lesson. The one difficulty is sometimes everyone wants a turn to sit on the ball, whether it’s right for their sensory system or not, so establishing it as special seat for an individual student right from the get-go is important. 

Tiled classroom with a white board. Black chairs arranged in a half-circle around the white board. In the middle of the chairs is a teal yoga ball intended to be a seat. On the board can be seen some writing.

Tiled classroom with a white board. Black chairs arranged in a half-circle around the white board. In the middle of the chairs is a teal yoga ball intended to be a seat. On the board can be seen some writing.

Another easy tool is a weighted blanket, providing deep pressure to help students remain seated and regulated who might otherwise want to move around to seek sensory input. I’ve found there isn’t as much temptation from other students around these blankets, so it’s a nice, low impact addition to the classroom space.

The student it’s intended for can keep it on their body, take it off when it’s their turn to go to the board and then put it back over them or have a staff put it over them as the other poets take their turns.

 

Teal and dark blue weighted blanket sitting on top of a black chair in a tiled classroom.

Teal and dark blue weighted blanket sitting on top of a black chair in a tiled classroom.

Another, subtler and smaller form of deep pressure are hand squeezes to rhythm. A colleague of mine offers this to a poet in one of the rhythm and movement based workshops I run. It’s a simple tactile cue that helps the poet stay attuned to the group activity while also giving their body a bit of support.

For the workshops that are doing writing on paper rather than the white board I like to offer writing utensils that have different sizes and textures. This way every poet should be able to find a tool that fits comfortably in their hand.

Clear mason jar of writing utensils on a tiled classroom floor. The Jar has plastic ball point pens with both smooth and rough grips, pens with cardboard wrapping, regular sized pencils, and giant pencils.

Clear mason jar of writing utensils on a tiled classroom floor. The Jar has plastic ball point pens with both smooth and rough grips, pens with cardboard wrapping, regular sized pencils, and giant pencils.

These are a few ideas I have, but I’d love to hear what else is out there and what other artists and educators use in their spaces!

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