By: Morgan Derby
Have you heard of trauma-informed education? It is a new trend in education that encourages educators to take into consideration the way that trauma has impacted their students’ lives, and subsequently, their brains, learning, and behaviors.
Statistically speaking, two out of three children will experience at least one traumatic event in their lives before they turn 18 - that’s over half of our students! Trauma is any negatively significant situation or event. It covers a wide range of range of experiences, including…
- Experiencing any type of abuse (physical, verbal, emotional, sexual)
- Living in a household with substance abuse
- Living in a parent with a mental illness
- Witnessing community violence
- Living with food insecurity and/or poverty
- Witnessing violence against the mother
- Experiencing parental divorce or separation
- Experiencing the death of parent
- Living with someone who is suicidal
- A family member who is incarcerated
- Placement in foster care and/or adoption
- Children of refugees
- House fires, car accidents, natural disasters...plus many more!
These traumatic events have the power to change the wiring of children’s brains as they are developing. This affects how children learn and how they perceive the world around them. Naturally, this can also affect their performance in school.
Recognizing the impact of trauma on our students is the underlying idea behind trauma-informed education. But many teachers are then left wondering, “What do I do now?”
There are lots of strategies that teachers and administrators can use to create a trauma-informed classroom or school, but one super helpful strategy is to incorporate sensory-friendly tools into our classrooms.
When a child struggles with sensory problems, which is fairly common among students, they do not feel always feel comfortable in their body, particularly when they are in environments that cause stress on their sensory system, such as noisy, stimulating, or crowded places.
They feel so uncomfortable that their focus becomes finding ways to soothe themselves, rather than paying attention to what is happening around them - like listening to the teacher!
In a classroom, we might see students try to regulate themselves by fidgeting or picking at themselves or their belongings. Other students struggle to sit still or stay seated in their desks. Some struggle with being too loud or too quiet, or they are super sensitive to noise. I have also seen students spin, twirl, flap their arms, or rock back-and-forth in their seats. It is also common for children to be adverse to certain fabrics, textures, foods, or smells.
It is even hard for adults to learn something new if our environment is too noisy, our seat feels uncomfortable, or our clothing is bothering us.
So by introducing sensory-friendly tools into our classrooms, we are giving students a way to meet their sensory needs in a healthy way that still allows them to focus on learning. It’s a win-win!
Sensory-friendly tools often look like toys, but when they are used correctly, they can help children calm down, regulate, and focus. This can actually help to improve learning!
Related article: A Space for Mindfulness and Emotional Regulation In The Classroom
But one of my favorite sensory-friendly tools is the body sack ! This is perfect for younger elementary students. The soft stretchy material is soothing and provides just the right amount of tactile input for many kids. It feels like a soft, light cocoon, but because of the stretch, students can wiggle and move all around. They can even wrap themselves up from head to toe! It is so relaxing. When I have watched different kids try it out, the first thing they do is smile when they put it on because it feels that good!
The body sack stretches out like a blanket, but it can be kept neatly folded in a desk drawer or a bin of sensory-friendly items.
The first time my six year old daughter tried the body sack, she kept it on for FOUR HOURS straight! She slept in it, ate in it, read books in it, and even wore it while she practiced the piano.
Also read: Accommodating Sensory Issues In Classrooms
We have found that is an awesome tool for home and school because it is great for any child with sensory needs, whether they have sensory processing disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome, autism, or ADD or ADHD. I have found it is especially useful for children who have been affected by trauma as well!
Children affected by trauma often struggle with sensory problems because of the way the brain responds to trauma so incorporating more sensory-friendly items, like the body sack, into your classroom can really have a positive impact on the learning environment. Students are able to regulate themselves in a healthy way, which can reduce distracting or problematic behavior while simultaneously helping them focus more on learning!