Supporting regulation in the classroom
An entire day at school can be tiring and overwhelming. For lot’s of children, participating in the classroom is more than the academic demands of maths, science and handwriting, but also the integration of sensory processing and social strain challenges throughout the day. This can contribute to many children having difficulties maintaining attention and focus throughout the day at school. So how can we best support these children and their teachers to promote concentration and participation in learning within the classroom?
MODIFY THE ENVIRONMENT
Firstly, change the conditions before trying to change the child. We want to be setting our children up for success at every opportunity - so how can we modify the environment to do this?
Having a child with attentional difficulties sitting at the back of the classroom is already increasing the barriers to them participating in learning. It is recommended that children that have challenges concentrating are seated at the front of the room during floor time or tabletop work, and close to the teacher.
It is recommended that there are limited visual and auditory distractions in the classroom, in order to promote concentration and focus on one task at a time. This includes papers, posters or clutters on the child's table - could this be placed in a locker or tub instead? This also includes what sounds there are in the classroom - could we implement silent working or minimal talking whilst needing to focus?
Following from above, many children that are easily distracted by background noises may benefit from using noise cancelling headphones when needing to complete independent work. Other children may benefit from alternative seating arrangements including wobble stools, wobble cushions or elastic bands to allow for movement and fidgeting which can regulate the nervous system to allow for focus and attention. Many teachers now have sensory tools in the classroom, including fidgets, stress balls or putty which can also provide tactile stimulation whilst concentrating during lessons. Weighted blankets or weighted toys can also be used to provide deep pressure or proprioceptive sensory input whilst seated and concentrating.
MODIFY THE TASK
Next, it is important to consider whether the tasks, demands or expectations are too high for the child in the context of their physical, sensory, cognitive, social and emotional strengths or challenges.
It is recommended to provide visual or written information in combination with verbal instructions. This might look like handouts to be provided to children to follow along with, or using visuals on powerpoint slides to refer to.
Breaking down the task
Is the task too overwhelming to begin with? It is recommended to break the task down into smaller steps, or supporting the child to plan the task. This might also look like having only a couple of tasks per page.
Often we are expecting too much from younger children in terms of timing. It is recommended to have shorter sessions with multiple breaks - not just recess and lunch. This might include going for a walk outside, asking the student to run an errand, or exercises like wall push ups. This might also include a ‘brain break’.
Finally, it is important to consider how we can make the task more motivating for the child to engage in. Can we incorporate their favourite interests into the task? How can we reinforce good behaviour rather than punish bad behaviour? This might look like rewards charts, social reinforcement (praise), or a fun activity to finish the day.
Lastly, what can we do if a child does become dysregulated at school?
We can support them to go to a quiet space in the classroom or school, to restore and calm their bodies and minds.
Yoga and mindfulness is a great way to reduce muscle tension and stress, and is also a fun activity that the whole class can enjoy.
Finally, deep breathing activities can also help to calm the nervous system. It is recommended that children practice these breathing techniques whilst calm, so that when they become overwhelmed - these breathing strategies are already a habit and easy to implement.
Please speak to your Occupational Therapist if you are looking for some support to implement any of these strategies in the classroom.