Growing up, I attended a small school smack in the middle of Memphis. At the start of each year, we received a paper bag filled with school supplies. I was always so excited, not about the start of the school year, but about opening that mystery bag and seeing what color ruler I got, whether or not I had colored pencils, and how many notepads there were. Like some of my own children, school wasn't easy for me, but the bag of mystery goodies made the start of each year a bit easier.
My own kids, sad to say, do not receive the awesome mystery bag of school supplies. In fact, they don't receive school supplies at all. The two teenagers are homeschooled and the youngest is in public pre-school. What they do receive are lots of sensory tools to help them with schooling. If you remember from previous posts, I have one kiddo that seeks sensory input, one that avoids it, and a Goldilocks that needs just the right amount. Overtime, their needs have changed and, at times, I have had to get pretty creative. Here are some of our favorite sensory school supply must haves.
1. Flexible Seating
One of the biggest perks of home schooling is being able to diversify seating arrangements. My oldest has chronic pain that makes sitting at a desk for long periods of time painful. At home he is able to lay down in his bed, curl up on the porch swing, lay on the trampoline, or stretch out on the couch while he does his school work. He has a Firefly Heat Pad that I can heat up and lay along his legs. I also have a rub made of rosemary, frankincense, lavender, copaida, and peppermint that works great at relaxing his muscles. My youngest struggles with seating because she needs to constantly move. For her, she learns best while jumping on a mini trampoline, rolling around on the livingroom floor, swinging in a swing, and splashing in water. We probably take flexible seating to an extreme. However, that is what works for our kiddos.
As our youngest starts public pre-school, I know that she is going to need flexible seating in a traditional school setting. Many schools now have flexible seating options including exercise balls, half circle cushions, like THIS ONE, and pillows that can replace traditional chairs. When chairs can't be switched out, taking more breaks to get up and stretch can help. Taking walks in the hallway, doing a couple of yoga stretches, lifting something heavy, and using a sensory tool can all help with the restless fidgeting. We are able to make these accommodations through an Individualized Education Plan. There are also 504 Plans and other educational plans that can be discussed with your school.
2. Sensory Tools In The Classroom
Beyond seating, there are many tools that can be used in a classroom setting to enhance learning. My oldest would have benefited greatly from a fidget tool, such as our Firefly Wrist Fidget. Something that he could hold, wear, or keep in his pocket that the other kids wouldn't necessarily see. It wasn't something that we had thought of at the time. Instead, we depended on sensory breaks where he was removed from the classroom to take walks, sit in the resource room, lift heavy objects, etc. It is something that I regret a bit. In removing him, we never really built up the classroom coping skills. He is 16 years now, and works great 1:1, but still really struggles in a group setting. There are lots of hand fidgets out there that are great for reducing anxiety and fidgeting. We have our own line of smaller fidgets, like the Wrist Fidget, the Firefly Maze Tiles, and the Firefly Pocket Fidget. There are also dozens of fidgets that you can purchase online. We make ours to be quiet so as to not disturb the class, inconspicuous so as to not draw attention to them, and affordable. Those are the characteristics that I would look for when purchasing hand fidgets.
Weighted lap pads, wrist bracelets, and vests are also a great option for those that need compression as part of their sensory input. For our weighted lap pads, The Firefly Weighted Textured Lap Pad and the Firefly Weighted Lap Fidget, we focused on calming colors, evenly distributed weight, and quiet/diverse fidgets. It is good to test out fidgets, as some prefer manipulative fidgets while others prefer textured fabrics.
3. Sensory Specific Apparel
Two of my three kiddos have really struggled with apparel. Tags, scratchy fabric, and ribbed socks have been consistent enemies in this household. In addition, it is hard to get compression from traditional apparel, which can help with anxiety and fidgeting. While Bluefireflies' doesn't offer these products, there are a lot of great vendors out there that do. Examples include, Fun & Function and Target. I wish that these options were around for my oldest when he was young. I think that he really would have benefited from a secret compression shirt hidden under his uniform. :) Compression, when done right, can really help with decreasing anxiety and increasing focus. It is very important, however, to work with an occupational therapist to make sure that you have the right amount of pressure.
4. After School Sensory Support
If your kids are anything like mine, when they were in the public school setting they did their best to keep it together all day and then came home and crashed. It takes a lot of energy for a student to balance school work and social pressures. Home is the safe place to relax and de-stress after a hard school day. If you have also had to balance sensory challenges during the day, that crash at home can be even more intense. While we see less of this now that we homeschool, our youngest will experience the after school crash once she starts preschool. In addition, when we go out to community events where there is a lot of social interactions, sounds, and activities, my older kids still come home and crash. So, we have multiple tools at home to help. I am biased, but I really do love our Firefly Sensory Sacks. I love the portability, the ease of washing, and their ability to let the kids control the amount of compression. I also love our larger compression items, in particular the Firefly Sensory Bed Wrapand our Firefly Weighted Blanket. When the kids come home, they are there waiting for them to climb into. The compression is soothing and calming. We have many other tools, as well. We have a large trampoline and a netted swing for those that need movement. We also have essential oil diffusers and inhalers. We only use kid safe oils, as it is important to remember that younger kids process oils differently, and at proper dilutions. There are many single oils, such as bergamot, and synergies, such as Calming the Child, to chose from.
When it comes to preparing for the school year, I think the key is preparing for the classroom and the home- the before, during, and after. Diversity in sensory tools is equally important as everyone has different needs at different times. While my older two are already into this year's studies, my youngest one is gearing up, just like many of your kids are. We are definitely planning away!