RAVENWOOD, Mo. — Much to the envy of adults puttering away in cubicles and offices across the country, students at Northeast Nodaway are following a new path to keeping focused throughout the day, and it leads right down their hallway.
New to the elementary and preschool wing this school year is a “sensory hallway,” a trendy addition to elementary schools across the nation that can help to channel some of the untamed energy waiting to burst out of little learners.
“I call it a ‘focus boost,’ because as we sit throughout the day, we need to get our bodies up and moving, and so we can just do this very quickly. And it’s individual too, so they can take turns,” said preschool teacher Marcy Sobotka. “Basically, in a nutshell, it’s just something to get our blood working, our oxygen to the brain so that way we can just have a quick boost and we’re ready to focus again.”
Right outside her classroom, Sobotka’s students, although less than two weeks into the school year, are already familiar with the path of decals affixed to the hallway floor: first the leapfrogs over the logs, then hopscotch up the numbered leaves of a plant until they reach the arrows that show them which way to spin all the way around. Then it’s a mini game of Twister, coordinating hands and feet onto the floor before the big finale: walking a tight figure 8.
“They really like it,” Sobotka said. “And it’s kind of, like I said, it’s a quick boost, it just gets them going enough that they’re ready to come back in and learn.”
After seeing the idea work at other schools, the PTO, which purchased the materials for the hallway, worked with Therapy at School, a physical and occupational therapy services company based in Kansas City, to design two sets of paths for Northeast Nodaway’s sensory hallway that were hand-assembled and installed by Lemon and Grey Crafts: one for younger kids, and another for older elementary students that has more educational components like shapes and fractions.
“You could have them name the shape that they’re standing on, and then they just bend down and touch it with their hands … and this one’s more academic, so if you want them to step on a certain fraction or hop on a certain fraction, you can do that here,” Sobotka explained.
Elementary students are more likely to use the hallway during natural break points, like at the end of a lesson and before the start of another.
“I think a lot of … classes use it as more of a ‘OK, we’re going to transition into this, so let’s go out and do our sensory hallway and get our minds back into things and start math when we come back in,’” Sobotka said.
Just the five minutes of physical stimulation is enough to make a world of difference for otherwise-fidgety children looking for an outlet, and numerous studies have shown that students who have recently been physically active pay more attention, process information more successfully and perform better on tests.
“Just with the preschoolers, I notice it as far as just awareness: They’re aware of where they’re at in line, they’re aware of where their friend is going,” Sobotka said. “They’re just more alert and into it and engaged, and … more ready to go when they come back inside.”
*This story has been edited to clarify that Lemon and Grey Crafts designed and installed the individual elements in the sensory hallway, while Therapy at School designed the layout.