When we talk about "whole child learning" we are talking about more than sitting still & listening while learning math, reading, social studies and other subjects. These skills while important, are not enough to prepare a child for long term success.
Whole child learning does not just engage a students' ears. It engages all of the senses, the body & brain, the attention as well as the imagination. By actively engaging and supporting the whole child in their own learning process, they learn to communicate more clearly, form mutually supportive friendships, retain information longer & are better prepared to think critically as they evaluate & creatively solve problems. From a biological position, the brain forms more connections and branches, which increases its capacity to learn and understand more.
"Whole child" means we put students first, and adapt to a student's unique needs. We engage in a more natural approach to learning. When subjects and lessons are presented in a compartmentalized manner, the student feels the disconnect and disengages because the lessons simply do not hold any real meaning for him. In a whole child approach, all the different elements of education work together. Keep children engaged & challenged will better prepare them for building on their education, work, social and civic life.
So, how can we easily adapt lessons & curriculum's to be engaging & challenging, allowing the whole student the opportunity to move, communicate, be creative & develop positive character? How can we incorporate visual, auditory, olfactory, proprioceptive and tactile stimulation to improve the way our students take in and process, understand and utilize information?
This is a question I am asked often by parents, educators and therapists. There are a variety of ways to do this that will not interrupt your schedule or be costly. Here are afew ideas:
1. Make learning more hands-on by having your students dream up, name & create their own dinosaur, planet or constellation.
2. Let your students make their own tactile sensory boxes using shoe box lids and rice, sand, beans or other material. Have them "write" the alphabet, their names, numbers or play tic-tac-toe as a transition to the next class or activity.
3. Adapt the sensory box activity from #2 to be a relaxation activity to make a table top sand garden. Play some soft, instrumental, harp or Native American flute music, and have the students draw circles or shapes to the music. To deepen the self-calming effect, have them do this with their eyes closed. Great for test-taking and other stressful days.
4. Create a "Vanishing Slate" using individual slates and water. Use paint brushes to "paint" a positive word, their name or a design on the slate with the water and watch it slowly disappear. Can be done to low frequency, slow tempo music, when other work is complete.
5. Create a labyrinth (a maze) in the classroom with masking tape or rope, or with sidewalk chalk outdoors. Have the children slowly walk the path, and walk back out. (A labyrinth differs from a maze in that there is only one way in and one way out.) This brings concentration and calm to the brain and body.
6. If you don't have room to make a large labyrinth, here are 4 different labyrinth designs students can print out & use while sitting at a desk or lying on the belly on the floor. Use index finger to slowly trace the path inward and outward. Use non-dominant finger as well.
7. Play relevant interactive & technology games between lessons and during transitions between classes. Encourage the students to solve puzzles and meet challenges as if they were their favorite video game character: ( Dora, Mario, Zelda, Angry Birds, Etc.)
8. Use photos, art, journals and literature to help your students create a timeline that highlights people's lives during significant historical or personal events: ( The Crusades, Christopher Columbus sailing to America, The first Thanksgiving, The Civil War or the day they were born, made the basketball team, etc.)
9. Guess what substances are in boxes or jars by smelling only. You can use a blindfold and do one or two "Mystery Smells" a day. (Use ONLY natural substances such as coffee, vanilla bean, cloves, sage leaves, lemon tea bags, peppermints, etc.)*(Do not use fragrance oil or perfume as it can have a toxic or allergic effect on the nervous system of some children. Be sure to ask parents about allergies before you do this activity! )
10. Have children each bring in a fruit or vegetable and take them through the steps to make a salad together for the class to share. (Please check with parents for food allergies and special diets.)
11. Play the 'Pizza Game'. Improve body awareness and deep muscle input by using pool noodles as "rolling pins" and the students as "dough" (Directions at this link.) To make this an activity that children can do for themselves, see this link here on how to stimulate pressure points for self-calming.
12. Adaptive Yoga is being used successfully in classrooms all over the world. Take a few minutes to put on some music and stretch, move and breathe! You don't have to know the 'poses' or the Sanskrit names. Just ask the students: "What would my body look like if it were a [fill in the animal, natural or transportation object]"
Younger children will have fun taking turns moving and imitating and older kids will enjoy the creative movement.
What are some of the creative ways that you incorporate sensory, social & self-care lessons into your daily classroom work? We would love to hear your ideas! Please leave a comment below.