I have a kindergarten student who has not been diagnosed with anything involving particular sensory needs, but seems to have them. This student is constantly in need of touching things, and he hates wearing headphones when working on a computer program. He’s learning English as a second language, so communication is difficult sometimes, but whenever I hand him headphones, he points to his ear and says something about “hurting.” Or he just unplugs the headphones from the computer. I’ve argued with him about it several times. I don’t want the sound from the computer bothering other people working in the room, and it’s not really fair that the other students have to wear them. Then again, if the headphones truly bother him, whether because of physical discomfort or sensory needs, it’s not really fair to make him wear them, is it? I’ve stopped bothering. He has a tendency to focus better on a computer when he doesn’t have to wear headphones.
That problem taken care of, it doesn’t change the fact that he runs his hand down the wall whenever he walks down the hall (I’ve also stopped bothering with this. It’s just not worth the battle) or that he loves cutting and gluing and playing with interestingly textured objects, but as soon as the art supplies are put away, he’s wandering around the room, going through all my cupboards. It seems that he needs to touch things. And he’s one of those kids that will actually shut down in structured environments. Like with the headphones, if I say, “we’re going to this now,” I often spend half my time arguing with him or chasing him around the room. But if I give him options, I can incorporate the content I need to teach him, and he remains interested and focused on the task at hand. For example, he built a tower of Legos as tall as he is, and we counted how many Legos were in the tower. So I’ve determined that I need to create a less structured environment, preferably filled with as many tactile-sensory objects as possible. So today, I started.
I went through all my materials and filled a single cupboard with anything I think my students can play with while letting me still cover content. There are several sensory objects in there–clay, Bendaroos, buttons, beads, cords for lacing, etc. But there can be a lot more. He really likes to play with Legos and building blocks, so I want to see if I can find some of those to put in there. And I need to keep the cupboard looking as enticing as possible. But my mother made a point–I’m going to have change out what’s available in it a lot. And it’s true, this kid gets bored fast. I think I may also have to develop a portable sensory box that I can use with him when I’m not bringing him to my classroom. But we used it for the first time today. The kids decided to get out the magnetic numbers and letters, so we put them up on the white board and practiced IDing them. The kids stayed interested and focused while I asked them to identify letters or figure out if they had them upside down. I think teaching content may take longer in a less shaped environment, but it’s always faster when you don’t have to spend so much time arguing.