New Sensory Paths Help with Focus and Learning

New Sensory Paths Help with Focus and Learning
Posted on 09/09/2019
second graders using sensory paths

Over the summer, hallway floors at 10 Lakota schools were transformed to look like giant gameboards. These new sensory paths have Shawnee ECS students jumping on lily pads, hopscotching on tiger paws, and turning circles on pictures of coiled snakes. 

These sensory paths are making their way into schools across the nation to help keep kids moving and engaged during the day. Students and teachers alike are enjoying these cool new movement paths.

“The kids love the sensory paths,” said Effie Goetz, a Shawnee second grade teacher. “They are great for wiggly, squiggly kids that need a brain/sensory break, but I use them for my whole class as well.”

Principal Kevin Thomas is excited for the endless possibilities for this new teaching tool. “The paths can be used for students with specific sensory needs or for overall academic reinforcement. Studies have shown that movement can help reinforce a lesson; for example, teachers can ask students to spell a sight word when stepping on an orange circle or skip count when they land on a single tiger paw. ESL teachers are even using the paths to help their students with English language acquisition.”

The whole idea started when one of the district’s occupational therapists saw a post about sensory paths on social media. She brought the idea to the district motor team (occupational therapists, physical therapists and adaptive PE teachers), and it took off from there. With the help of local company, 321 Design, all six early childhood schools and four elementary buildings have at least one sensory path installed in their hallways.

All of the paths were strategically placed within the schools, and were installed over the summer to allow for the many coats of wax needed for the pathways to withstand all of the hopping, skipping and jumping. Each building picked different themes for their path(s); Shawnee’s tiger mascot was the inspiration behind the jungle and a marsh themes they selected.

Linda Phipps, an occupational therapist at Shawnee last year, explained how the pathways work. “The sensory paths are created for early childhood students based on age appropriate movements that they can handle: stepping, walking, hopping, and so on.”

Phipps continued, “The underlying theory behind them is sensory integration. If students get appropriate sensory information, it helps them focus and participate in class. By allowing students to receive proprioceptive sensory input (movements that provide a lot of input to their muscles and joints), they can return to the classroom ready to focus and learn.”

This proprioceptive and vestibular input can help all students increase cognition and retention of new information, so teachers are incorporating the pathways into their lesson plans to help with learning shapes, colors, spelling, and math.

Schools can even add wall decals to help supplement the path as well. Shawnee has a station where students strike a yoga pose. The paths can even be a perfect post-lunch break, especially when outdoor recess isn’t possible.

“The paths are designed based on age appropriate movement, but the goal was to also make them fun, something that students want to do,” Phipps added. When you watch the smiles and excitement of the students as they make their way through the paths, there is no doubt that goal was met.