Published in S.I. Focus, Summer issue
Imagine coming to one of my “Getting Kids in Sync” presentations. You are here to learn new strategies for supporting children with SPD. At the door, you receive a warm welcome, a hefty handout, and two paper plates.
Get a cup of coffee and snack, but please, do not put food on the plates. We’ll use them in many different ways — just not for bagels and berries!
During our synergetic day, one activity is drawing on a paper plate. This activity requires some thought, so it comes immediately after a break. From years of teaching, I know you will think better if given opportunities to stretch and move every 10 minutes or so.
Tip: Human beings are born to move. Movement gets the body and brain in sync and makes learning easier. Want your child to be ready to learn? A few minutes devoted to a physical action, such as jumping or swinging, prepares him for the cognitive action of reasoning and problem-solving.
Once you all are refreshed and reseated, I say, “Please get one of your paper plates. Then I’ll give you an assignment.”
What? An assignment? Now you are alert and possibly on guard, because you don’t know what is expected. You may fumble as you search for the plate. Take your time. We’ll wait until everyone is ready.
Tip: Rushing a person to do a novel task is counterproductive. “Doing,” or “praxis,” takes practice. Want your child to taste success when trying a new task? Give her plenty of time to ideate (conceive of) what she needs to do, to do the necessary motor planning, and to carry out her motor plan. Practice leads to praxis!
Got your plate? Paying attention? Great!
I say, “On your plate, sketch an experience you had as a child that you like to think about, now that you are an adult. This memorable experience may have happened once, or many times.” As Robert Schumann’s Traumerai (Scenes from Childhood) plays in the background, you pick up your pen and begin to draw.
Tip: Instrumental music (especially by Mozart, Bach, Schumann or other classical composers) is conducive to reading and writing. Music with lyrics (i.e., songs or opera), however, competes with these verbal tasks. Want your child to improve her study skills? Encourage her to listen to quiet music without words.
After a minute, I stop the music and get your attention by blowing into a slide whistle. You alert to the sound as the whistle rapidly glides up and down a musical scale.
♬ Whooosh! Whooosh.
Tip: People with SPD or autism often have an affinity for music, drum beats, poetry, and chants. Rhythmic patterns help their brains get organized so they can pay attention. Want your child to listen to you? Sing it, strum it, clap it, or tap it!
When you are all ears, I say, “Briefly share your story with the person next to you — or with two other people, so everyone is included. This story-sharing can be a ‘twosie’ or a ‘threesie’ activity.”
Tip: People with SPD often feel isolated. Want your child to feel part of the family or group? In conversation or activity, be mindful about ways to include everyone.
The room is abuzz as you and your neighbor(s) describe wonderful childhood memories. You gesture, laugh, nod in understanding, and lean toward your new friends. After a few minutes of “speed stories,” you again hear the slide whistle’s glissando whooshing up and down to get your attention.
Now I say, “Let’s hear some of your stories. Someone, please volunteer to tell your story in a few sentences.”
You may think, “Is this a trick question? What might my story reveal about myself? It was just about climbing a tree…. Would others consider it silly?” You — and many others in the room — may freeze.
Tip: When your senses take in a sudden, unexpected message, you are instantly aroused and self-protective. Your brain integrates and organizes sensory messages to help you assess whether you are in danger — and whether to fight, to take flight or fright, or to freeze. Only when your senses tell you that you do not need to be defensive, can you relax and use your senses to discriminate what is going on around you. Want your child to be an active and discriminating learner? First make sure your child feels safe!
If no one in the hotel ballroom ventures to share a story, I’ll offer one of mine, such as raking with my family and then jumping and rolling in a pile of fragrant, crunchy, colorful autumn leaves.
Tip: Throughout the day, everyone needs the sensation of deep pressure to the skin, muscles and joints. Want to calm your over-responsive child … or to arouse your under-responsive child? Let her run and jump into a pile of leaves, hay or snow or onto a mound of cushions, or give her a “Squeezit” (bear hug) until her sensory system gets in sync.
My leaf-pile anecdote alleviates your worry. It’s okay, this story sharing is a safe activity, and soon hands go up. We hear stories about building dams in the creek, jumping from swings, rolling down hills, and bike riding with buddies. We hear about what you did with trampolines and tree stumps … roller skates and rowboats … brownies and mudpies … horses, hikes, and hopscotch.
After several memorable stories, I say, “Even without hearing every story, I know a few things about what you drew, because your experiences share many common qualities. Times may change, but children’s needs stay the same.”
Most of your drawn experiences were:
- Outdoors. If your story was outside, I ask you to raise your hand and look around the room. You turn and see a forest of hands.
- Sensory-rich. Most of your reminiscences involve active touch, movement, vision and hearing, and perhaps smelling and tasting, too. The more meaningful and memorable an experience, the more senses are integrated. (Because they are essential for survival, the two human activities that use all senses simultaneously are eating and lovemaking. Watching TV uses only vision and hearing.)
- Safe. Even if the activity was very challenging, you felt secure enough to keep going. You had “inner drive” to satisfy your curiosity, reach beyond your grasp, try new moves, or vary the game to make it more complex. You climbed out further on the branch, bowled with your left hand, planted peach and cherry pits together to produce a mystery fruit, and so forth.
- Social. You were probably with family or friends, all relatively dependable and predictable. No bullies, no spoilers —just cohorts. You were part of a team. You felt needed. (Even if reading was an extremely pleasurable pastime when you were a child, you probably have not drawn it on your plate. Being alone may have been pleasant, but participating in activities with others is more memorable.)
- Untimed. The experiences were over when they were over — when you were satisfied, or went home for supper. No clock imposed an artificial ending to the activity.
- Meaningful. You had some or much control of the situation, and you were learning or developing a new skill that you could generalize to other scenarios.
- Desirable. You liked the experience so much that you wanted to repeat it.
- Active. You were the doer — not the “do-ee” who passively allowed the experience to happen without your participation.
- Not in the classroom. Let’s hope that as educators bring more sensory-motor experiences into the classroom, this will change!
- Independent of electronic equipment. You were using kid power, not electric or battery power. You — not purchased, plugged-in games — were the source of your own entertainment.
What do you think your children will draw on their plates, 20 years hence? If we provide many sensory-rich opportunities to move and play (especially outdoors), we can ensure that their memories will be as meaningful as ours.
Thank you for coming to the presentation and for engaging in this paper plate activity. In a future article, we’ll consider more sensory-motor and perceptual-motor experiences with paper plates, designed to get you and your children actively moving, learning, and growing “in-sync.”