A stimulus therapy for preschool

Preschool teacher telling a story to children. Children answering the questions. Children sitting on the floor. Models in this shot are part of real kindergarten group and their teacher.Education , Students

Milestone chart can be an influential tool in assessing a child’s developmental issues. Let’s say, when infants crawl, they have achieved an important motor milestone. Initially they move randomly, but eventually, they plan the direction and speed. This helps them fine-tune their eye-hand coordination, directionality and spatial relationships. These skills are used later in life for reading, writing and sports activities. 

Research in this area is pointing to the fact that sensory-motor integration is one of the foundational milestones in a child’s developmental journey for learning. It creates a roadmap for a child’s academic performance, behaviour and emotional growth.  

Impact on learning

It is fortunate to know that our brain and body are capable of modifying connections at any age due to ‘brain plasticity’ or ‘neuroplasticity’. In other words, even if a child has skipped a milestone or not stimulated enough, there is still a ‘window of opportunity’ through sensory-motor integration that introduces them to carefully planned, structured activities in a stimulating and nurturing environment even at a later stage.

Sensory-motor activities help create more and more neural connections which help the child explore, express, learn, remember, read, write, create and communicate. When sensory processing and perception is matched to motor skills the performance of the brain improves in cognition, memory, retrieval, behaviour and learning.

The more we challenge our brain by exploring varied sensations and movements, the more connections and pathways our nervous system makes.

A new motor skill when repeated many times strengthens the pathways in the brain and the skill becomes automatic. Variation in sensory stimulation and experiences is important as it refines the range of motor movements that the child can perform.

Take the instance of catching a ball. Variation of the size and texture of the ball, as well as the speed and direction from which the ball is thrown, will help develop better eye-hand coordination, vision skills, hand grasp, body posture, alertness, attention and posture. 

Relevance

Since children at a very young age are introduced to technology, they hardly express any interest in playing outdoors, spend quality time with peers or adults or even with engaging with art or nature. This results in their movement and touch systems being under-stimulated and their visual and auditory systems being bombarded constantly. 

These changes in lifestyle are impacting the developmental patterns in young children and infants as they are often deprived of the necessary stimulation and exposure to complete the sensory-motor integration. 

What are the activities that are included to ensure sensory-motor integration from age 2 to 6?

SMILE ­— Sensory Motor Integration in the Learning Environment — is a path-breaking concept where every child is exposed to a graded, age-appropriate set of activities designed by experts to be implemented as a part of the preschool curriculum.

A SMILE room is a set up where most structured activities are done. Activities include a variety of animal walks across textures, obstacle courses involving tunnels, tires, swings, beams and bolsters, slides and ladders that make the child creep, roll, crawl, jump and hop. These activities vary over time to elicit the required stimulation and skills.

The outdoor area and classroom environment are also leveraged for unstructured activities and group games. Activities like hopscotch, parachute games, ball games, balloons, music and movement, art, etc., are included. Sensory paths comprising natural and human-made textures are used with play areas like swings, rope ladders, bridges, sand and water play. All these activities stimulate and integrate all the seven senses. 

Gross motor skills form the core part of the healthy development among children of all ages. In fact, gross motor activities not only get kids active and release much-needed energy but also help them regulate sensory needs.

Animal walks are simple and fun exercises to get a quick dose of gross motor. Crab walk starts by squatting down close to the ground. The bear walk starts in the standing position. Frog jump starts in the squatted position.

These activities help children to focus, control their breathing, and acquire greater control and coordination of the body.

It strengthens the core muscles, the arms, the wrists and the palms. These activities are used especially when children find it difficult to concentrate.

Schools often encourage children to get creative and devise their own animal walk.

Vestibular input is one of the core elements of sensory integration therapy. Our bodies’ vestibular system is the sensory system that provides primary input about movement, balance, spatial awareness and positioning. It helps us prepare our posture, maintain our balance, our vision, calm ourselves and regulate our
behaviour.

In SMILE, we have tyres suspended from the ceiling by a rope. Children enjoy swinging on them and have made it their favourite activity.

The variety of swinging exercise is dependent on the sensory diet planned for the child. Eye contact, attention and concentration, focus, endurance, balance, postural control and coordination are some of the benefits obtained from these activities. 

Classroom teachers are sensitised on the importance of these sensory motor-integration activities and their relationship with the developmental milestones and skills they are imparting.

Hence SMILE would help the child to have the “right wiring” to optimize their learning and be successful in any of their pursuits and interests.

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A stimulus therapy for preschool

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