I need/I want, Classroom Accommodations

Once upon a time, I had a child in my class who leaned on other children during circle. He was so talented at leaning, he could even lean on himself, folding himself up into a tidy little envelope of a boy. His friends in the class knew this about him and we all figured out how to create leaning space and time and I got to work finding someone with a table saw and the inclination to cut in half, then sand, and screw 18 wooden unit blocks together in the shape of a “T”. The blocks were circa 1968 and well worn, no longer usable for building, their edges soft. In the end, I had 18 “t-seats” to help build vestibular awareness. Children sit on the top part of the “T”, balancing on the narrow column below (imagine a one-legged stool). Why 18? Well, there were 18 students in the class—there would be a seat for everyone.

At the time, I was still a "new” teacher. I was enrolled in graduate school in the evening, learning theory and practice, and at the same time, sharing with other graduate students who taught during the day. A common refrain when the subject of individualized classroom accommodations came up and the focus was about using equipment like fidgets, specialized seating, writing supports, oral supports, foot rests, etc. was “everyone will want one” and “they will argue”.

Here is an entry from About.com containing solid advice about how to help your child “sit still”. Please note the key requirement of “a really innovative teacher” negated by “if the teacher won’t…”

5. Therapy Ball

This may only be a possibility if your child's in a self-contained class with a really innovative teacher, but the kind of big inflated therapy ball used in occupational therapy makes a great desk chair for a fidgety kid. She'll have to constantly adjust her body to stay balanced, and that focuses attention and eliminates big uncontrolled movements. If the teacher won't go for it at school, try it for homework time.

As a parent myself, I can see the benefit of having SOMETHING to help with HOMEWORK! A cone of silence, a vacation in a galaxy far, far away. Anything. As a teacher, it really makes sense that if a kid NEEDS help accomplishing schoolwork let’s give it to her! It makes everyone’s day better.

So here is the happy ending. After the 18 homemade t-seats arrived in the classroom, and were introduced, 18 children tried them and the number of children who “wanted” them whittled down immediately to a handful of children who “needed” them. I can assure every teacher in this galaxy and beyond that the only worry I have now is where to store the bulk of the unused t-seats—I never use more than a handful during group activities. Children gravitate to what they need and the children who do not NEED these materials simply do not use them.

Now we have all kinds of adaptive materials in the classroom and though I do admit that I could use more of some of them, I have exactly what most of the children need. It may also help put this in perspective to let you know we do not have closets at our school. These materials are always accessible because they are OUT. The key to success, in fact, is to make the materials constantly accessible. We open a discussion about the materials, we help children negotiate sharing in advance, we hold “petting zoo”-type of events to try materials out, and then encourage use liberally.

I was thrilled to be in the 2s class a few weeks ago when a little boy came around the corner wearing noise-softening headphones. He paused, looked at me, and said, “I need a t-seat today for circle and so does __________ .”

A time, a space, a place, as well as supports for everyone.

Resources for materials:

I find slant seats, large rubber bands, and large balls at Marshall’s—they are packaged and sold as Pilates and Yoga materials.

Pocket Full of Therapy -- a parent-friendly online store

Homemade "stress" balls by Deanna Iris Sava, MS, OTR/L

And for more information about occupational therapy, visit The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. and about sensory processing and supports that ALL children need, The Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation