Improve Focus with Sensory Integration Activities During the School Day

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Image of a young girl Connections Academy student and her Learnign Partner doing a hands on activity to promote sensory integration during the day at Connections Academy

Kids are prone to restless fidgeting, daydreaming, and losing focus, especially during the school day. We attribute it to boredom, fatigue, or hunger, and often the solution is to take a short break. But in fact, there’s a solution that can make that break even more effective, and that’s trying sensory integration activities. 

Sensory integration refers to how our brains simultaneously process a variety of sensations from our bodies in order to function effectively in our environment. Growing children are continually developing their sensory integration, so sensory integration activities (also called sensory input activities) that stimulate the senses can not only refresh them during the school day, but also improve their cognitive skills for life. 

The 4 Categories of Sensory Integration Activities

There are four types of sensory integration that children can practice: tactile, proprioceptive, vestibular, and motor planning. For each type, there are plenty of creative activities you can try. Check out some fun and helpful sensory processing activities: 

1. Tactile Activities

Tactile activities are sensory exercises that practice and utilize the sense of touch. These five tactile sensory input ideas are especially great for elementary school students: 

  • Play in a sandbox 
  • Play with shaving cream on a cookie sheet or in the bathtub 
  • Finger-paint 
  • Make your own play dough 
  • Cut a hole in a closed shoebox and put a variety of objects with unusual textures inside, asking your child to put their hand inside to try to guess what all the objects are 

2. Proprioceptive Activities

Proprioceptive activities increase awareness of the body’s muscles, joints, and ligaments. Proprioceptive sensory integration activities can be divided into different categories. To engage and calm overactive kids who fidget, or to make drowsy students more alert, try these whole-body fitness, or “heavy work,” activities: 

  • Dig a hole 
  • Lift weights 
  • Dance 
  • Do yoga 
  • Carry grocery bags 
  • Rake leaves 
  • Go for a hike 

Here are some passive proprioceptive activities to calm children who may be dealing with attention-deficit disorder or other conditions that affect energy levels: 

  • Take deep breaths with your stomach 
  • Stretch your muscles 
  • Hold or wear something warm 
  • Wear arm weights or lie under a heavy blanket 

Another kind of proprioceptive activity is oral-sensory. Oral-sensory activities are especially good for children who like to chew on pencils or other objects. 

  • Chew gum and blow bubbles 
  • Eat something chewy 
  • Drink with a straw 
  • Blow a whistle or play an instrument with a mouthpiece 

3. Vestibular Activities

Vestibular sensory activities improve the sense of movement and balance. Some children may be defensive and try to avoid movements that affect the inner ear. In this case, it’s important to practice these activities, but make sure you take it slow to ensure that your child is comfortable. Some examples of vestibular activities for the classroom are: 

  • Jump on a trampoline 
  • Spin around 10 times and then try to walk in a straight line across the room 
  • Balance on one foot 
  • Play on a swing set 
  • Rock in a rocking chair 

4. Motor Planning Activities

Motor planning sensory activities practice fine (small movement) or gross (large movement) motor skills. These activities are great to practice if your child is sometimes clumsy or has trouble learning new movements: 

  • Practice a dance routine 
  • Do an obstacle course 
  • Play catch Play “Simon Says” 
  • Practice patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time 

Keep in mind that your child should practice each type of sensory integration activity, but you can work on some types more than others depending on your child’s needs. 

Recommended Sensory Integration Activities by Grade Level

Looking for specific sensory input activities by age group? Check out these recommendations ranging from kindergarten all the way up to sensory activities for high school students.  

4. Elementary School (K-2)

  • Play with clay or play dough 
  • Create a sensory bin with objects of different textures, shapes and sizes that students can play with 
  • Head to the sandbox and build a castle, or play around with sand toys 
  • Create different-sized sound tubes with materials from home 

Older Elementary School (3–5)

  • Do a taste test challenge! Have students cover their eyes and sample different food items (sour, sweet, bitter, salty), and guess each item. 
  • Plant a garden together 
  • Challenge students to create their own musical instruments 
  • Create a home or school “gym” and do some simple gymnastics exercises

Middle School

  • Bake bread, cookies, or other baked goods that require lots of uniquely textured ingredients 
  • Create mosaics from torn paper, glass, or other materials 
  • Expose students to new sports and physical activities 

High School

  • Encourage students to get outside and take walks in nature 
  • Challenge students to create “mini movies” of their own 
  • Populate classrooms with small gadgets, stress balls, fidget spinners, and other items that can help combat nervous energy 

Encourage students to get outside and take walks in nature Challenge students to create “mini movies” of their own Populate classrooms with small gadgets, stress balls, fidget spinners, and other items that can help combat nervous energy 

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