Around the nation, more schools are finding ways to allow students movement breaks throughout the day. One of the popular initiatives is creating sensory paths. Last year, a sensory path was installed at the Marshall Early Learning Center to allow the district’s youngest students an opportunity to incorporate more structured movement in their day.

Now, a team of three college students has provided the same opportunity for the Marshall School District’s third through sixth grade population.

Second-year Madison College students Katie Campbell, Stacey Duncan and Felicia Holman, who are all studying occupational therapy, completed a pair of sensory paths at Marshall Elementary School in October as part of their honors project.

The trio chose Marshall because the district’s occupational therapist, Diana Martin, is a former student of their supervising professor, Debbie Bebeau. Campbell said the district employee was interested in expanding the sensory paths to the third through sixth graders.

“The big idea is it gives students a movement break when they get fidgety in class,” Campbell said, noting the overall goal of the initiative is to reduce the number of incidents a child is sent to the office due to behavioral issues in the classroom.

“We are empowering students to be aware of their attention span in class, and do something about it,” she said, adding the sensory paths let the children have an outlet before turning to negative actions that could disrupt class.

The occupational therapy student said the sensory paths provide an outlet for children who need a brain break.

“Sometimes kids just can’t sit still and they need a movement break,” Campbell said. “We wanted to give kids a brain break, which would allow kids to come back to class refocused and ready to learn following their time on either sensory path.”

She said each path takes about two minutes to complete.

The indoor path incorporates a nature theme and the outdoor one has an outer space motif. Campbell said the indoor path was created using adhesive vinyl, essentially giant stickers, placed on the floor. The group hired an outside vendor with experience cutting vinyl to create the nature-inspired shapes such as lily pads, logs and bear paws.

Campbell said the group used parking lot paint on the outdoor path to help it withstand the weather.

Martin said the outdoor path directs students to jump with both feet and one foot, tip toe, frog jump, walk heel-to-toe and generally requires students to coordinate their body movement in different directions.

“All these activities essentially provide a child with vestibular input, which is a change in body position and head movement. When students (and adults) move their heads, the fluid in the tiny organs of the inner ear moves and shifts, which constantly provides them with information about the position of their heads and bodies in space (spatial awareness),” she said. “Participating in these movement activities helps students to regulate their bodies, so that they are able to return to the classroom ready to learn. This movement and spatial awareness is also important to classroom success. When students have a well-developed vestibular system, they are better able to attend to instruction and demonstrate better visual-spatial skills (an important skill for reading and writing).”

The paths were installed Oct. 24 and 25 and each took about eight hours to place, the college student said. The team then instructed school staff Oct. 28 on how to teach the students to properly use the paths.

“During our training teachers were provided with a protocol for when appropriate times are to have students use the sensory paths based on the research my team and I conducted,” Campbell said. “Teachers also were instructed to create sensory break hall passes in order to prevent the paths from being used without teacher knowledge.”

According to the college student, since introducing the sensory pathways at the elementary school, classroom disruption incidents have decreased from 33 to 18.

Martin said the paths are being used daily. She said elementary school counselor informed her children use the sensory walkways independently and under the guidance of the counselor.

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