Husson OT Graduate Student Creates Sensory Path for Students at W.G. Mallett Elementary School in RSU 9

Submitted by Courtney Ross, Occupational Therapy Graduate Student at Husson University.

I recently finished my last clinical fieldwork rotation for my master’s degree, in Mt. Blue School District, RSU 9. I have always thoroughly enjoyed all of my pediatric fieldwork placements especially since my goal is to one day be a certified pediatric occupational therapist, but this one was especially rewarding for me. Prior to going into the school system, I believed that school based OT focused more on daily living skills and basic fine motor components, however I recent found that it is so much more. I was able to learn and implement reflex integration activities, visual processing, and emotional regulation activities, as well as fine motor adaptations and programs, all to increase performance and allow for a student to be successful in the classroom.

A majority of my time throughout the week was spent at W.G. Mallett Elementary School, in downtown Farmington, which educates pre-k through 2nd grade. About half-way through my time there, my clinical instructor, Christine Libby and I were approached by literacy teacher Vicki Foster, Principal Tracy Williams, and all the Kindergarten teachers about an idea for a sensory path in the hallway. Sensory paths have become very prevalent recently, however they can be extremely pricey – in some cases estimated at $2,500. A price like that can be extremely difficult for schools to afford, especially rural Maine schools. However, I knew that we could do it at a much lower cost using resources of my own and contributions from Principal Tracy Williams. Teachers from the school came up with theme they wanted; a Maine theme. We began the work from there, incorporating how the activities can target specific OT-related tasks, and still seem fun for the students.

Collectively the project took about 30 hours total designing the project on my design program, preparing the materials, and then Christine, my instructor and I installing the path in a 38 foot long hallway, down and back for a total of 76 feet of path. I was able to integrate not only my OT knowledge that I have spent the past 5 years gaining, but also my hobby of crafting and creating things which made this project so rewarding for me. I am so grateful for the support that my supervisor provided throughout this project, giving insight on how certain activities not only target gross motor or sensory input, but also reflexes, because not all students have their primitive reflexes fully integrated which can cause a decrease in school performance and so many other aspects of their education process.

The following explains what the activities in the path target and how overall it can assist a student who is experiencing a period of disregulation within 3-5 minutes:

The design of this path was created to include crossing midline and preparing the visual system via the lazy eight and lobster backwards high fives. It incorporated learning the alphabet, shapes, numbers, and left to right body awareness skills. The vestibular system was engaged through hopping/spinning and the balance beam designed to encourage heel to toe walking. Coordination and motor planning were utilized as well, via the side stepping apples and hopscotch which also has been known to help dyslexia. Wall push ups throughout the path as well as the animal crawling were used for arm and shoulder strengthening, reflex integration skills, as well as deep proprioceptive input for the joints and muscles. The path ends with Yoga poses and belly breathing which are movements to help children re-organize and come back to class with a calm body.

I was able to observe and teach students how to use it during my last week in the school district, and it was amazing how well students responded and engaged to the pathway. My clinical instructor reported it is working really well at W.G. Mallett Elementary School and the students continue to use it every day between their classes or during their OT time throughout the week!

Below are more pictures of the sensory path: