In our last post, we discussed what Sensory Processing is and looks like, and how to know if your child has sensory struggles. Now, it’s time to give you the best tips and tools for homeschooling special needs children or those with sensory processing disorder. While you may not be able to integrate all of these strategies (I mean, who could?), if you can simply use a few new tools each day to help your child regulate and make sense of the sensory world around him or her, your homeschooling day will go more smoothly. And, who doesn’t want that? Here are our best homeschooling special needs tips and tools for SPD.
Why sensory play?
You may be wondering why you need to integrate movement and sensory play into your day. Homeschooling special needs means you need to meet your child where he or she is. And that means playing before working! When you engage a child’s body, you stimulate the nervous system and the brain, making it more ready to calm and learn. Sensory play also gets the “wiggles” out, so to speak, as it allows your child to better process their senses and regulate themselves before you require their attention. Trust me, a little sensory play will go a long way in helping you with homeschooling special needs kiddos!
Sensory seeker tips
If you have a mover and shaker who is constantly on the go, loves loud noises, new textures (hello hot sauce), and bright lights, you most likely have a sensory seeker. This child craves movement, sensory experiences, and activity. For this type of child, it’s important to incorporate specific sensory input into the learning routine. Use the following list of sensory strategies to help you match your child’s input craving with the right product or learning strategy:
- Do, then teach! Allow your sensory seeker to be active in the learning process.
- Touch as much as possible. A firm touch, bear hug, massage, or added weight will help your seeker be able to focus.
- Monitor and limit noises, visual stimuli (such as lights and bright colors on walls), and temperature.
- Opportunities for exercise and heavy work are key, especially before learning. Try carrying, pushing against a wall, wheelbarrow walks, biking, jumping on a trampoline, etc.
- Use manipulatives whenever possible to engage the body in the learning process.
- Engage the senses of taste and smell — chew gum, use smelling markers or crayons, use food in a lesson.
Sensory avoider tips
Sensory avoiders typically thrive on structure and familiarity, are rigid and rule-oriented, become overwhelmed by sensory inputs and feel it more intensely, are often irritable, and startle easily. Sensory avoiders react intensely to sensory input including sound, touch, smell, and sight.
If you have a sensory avoider, it’s important to control the sensory inputs so you can help them process their environment. Using the following list of sensory strategies will help you match the environment’s inputs with the right product or learning strategy:
- Monitor volume, temperature, activity level, visual stimuli, etc., closely.
- Use headphones, weighted blankets or lap pads, and brushing to help your child attend BEFORE learning.
- Create a visual schedule and stick to it! Predictability is key.
- Give your child plenty of space to move, and avoid unexpected touch or noises.
- Allow your child to choose clothing, the place to sit, etc. Share power!
- Teach your child to self-assess and verbalize his or her feelings and sensory needs using a feeling or sensory chart.
Great sensory products
Homeschooling special needs also means being prepared. Whether your child seeks sensory stimulation or avoids it, you’ll all benefit from having a sensory kit ready and waiting to help your child regulate and engage his or her senses. Here are my favorite products and strategies that work for all kids who need sensory support before learning:
- Olfactory and oral input (smell and taste): scented crayons and markers, scented bubbles, cinnamon, gum, chewies jewelry or pencil toppers, scented candles
- Tactile input (touch): Wikki Sticks, fidgets, Desk Buddy, playdough or moon sand, felt or VELCRO® strip under the desk, sensory box with sand or rice, Koosh or squeeze ball, tennis ball for throwing, etc.
- Visual input (see): lava lamp, Ooze Tube, Spirograph, spinning tops, Jacob’s Ladder, etc.
- Auditory input (hear): musical instruments, egg with rice inside, Rain Maker, clickers, quiet classical music, etc.