Guest blogger Loren Shlaes is a registered pediatric occupational therapist and regular contributor to the special needs blog at Pediastaff (where this post is also being published). This is the fifth in a series of posts from Loren about how to help students who may be challenged with attention, sensory, or other issues be successful in the classroom. Most likely, you have at least a few students with these challenges every year, but even if you don’t, the information in these posts is relevant to all teachers.
Scene: A typical kindergarten classroom. Children are working independently and in small groups. The room is busy and noisy. Scents from the cafeteria are wafting up because it’s close to lunchtime. Now let’s focus in on three children as they go about their school day:
- Child A walks aimlessly around the perimeter of the room. He is occasionally instructed to pick an activity from the shelves and get started on it or to join other students as they work at one of the small tables coloring and cutting. He picks up a random item and attempts to comply, but as soon as the teacher’s back is turned, he resumes wandering.
- Child B has chosen a picture book as his activity. He is sequestered in the corner, turning the pages, and does not appear to be aware of anything around him. When the teacher calls the children to attention by clapping her hands sharply, he doesn’t look up.
- Child C is sitting at one of the tables working on a puzzle with several of his classmates. While they figure out where to put the pieces, they chat about what they did over the weekend and compare various sports figures. When the teacher comes over to the table to check on their progress, they look up briefly, nod when she tells them they have a few more minutes before lunch, then get right back to work. When the puzzle is completed, child C sweeps it into the box, gets up, and puts it on the shelf. He then gathers up his lunchbox and his catcher’s mitt in preparation for recess.
- A strong, stable body that supports him effortlessly against gravity.
- Good vision. Many children have undetected visual issues. A child who rubs his eyes, can’t copy from the board, slumps down over his work, habitually sits at his desk with his head resting on his hand and turned to the side, reverses letters after the age of seven, flinches when a ball is tossed to him, has a short attention span for tabletop activities, and is resistant to doing written work may be having difficulty with close vision.
- Adequate nutrition. Why is it that people know very well that putting second rate fuel in their cars will cause them to run badly but then routinely feed their children bad food? Second rate fuel in a child’s body will have exactly the same effect. It will cause him to function poorly. A child cannot be at his best on a diet of salty, sugary, chemical-laden, highly processed food. Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins provide the nutrition necessary for the body’s ability to support learning and to grow and develop. Sugary breakfast cereals, artificial juice drinks, frozen pizza, and toaster waffles do not. A classroom of children who have breakfasted on Froot Loops, been fed a midmorning snack of blue gummy bears and Hawaiian Punch, and then eaten chicken nuggets and fries for lunch, are not being provided with the necessary fuel to focus, attend, solve problems, and curb their impulses. Healthy snacks, and nutritious breakfasts and lunches, along with frequent drinks of water, are essential to the child’s ability to learn.
- Good respiration. Shallow breathers and children who are chronically stuffy and have a hard time concentrating because their brains are starved for oxygen.
- Sufficient exercise to develop and strengthen their nervous systems and promote healthy digestion and elimination and for the manufacture of neurotransmitters that support learning.
- Efficient, reliable sensory processing. Sensory processing refers to the way the nervous system takes in and perceives environmental information gathered by the senses. If the child’s nervous system does not adequately filter and discriminate, he is going to have difficulty maintaining his focus because everything is bothering or distracting him. If his nervous system is misinterpreting what is happening around him, his behavior is going to reflect that.
Want to read more from Loren? Here are the other posts in this series:
Minds in Bloom would also like to thank PediaStaff for collaborating with Loren to make this series possible. PediaStaff places pediatric therapists in schools, clinic, and hospitals throughout the country. In addition to their highly informative blog, they also have a huge Pinterest presence with over a hundred boards pertaining to education, child rearing, special needs, and various kinds of therapies. This post can also be viewed on the PediaStaff blog.
Did you learn something new from Loren? Do you have ideas to add? Please comment.