SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – By months end, all South Plainfield elementary schools will have sensory pathways in place. Through the paths students can hop, march, jump, and even crab crawl to curb restlessness or regain focus.

The paths, which include activities and directions with colorful prompts and pictures on both the floor and wall, are designed to encourage a child’s readiness for attention and learning — whether they need to calm down or energize – through movement. 

“We originally came up with the idea because we have students with a variety of needs, whether it be high-energy, anxiety, or just not able to sit at a desk all day,” said Andrew Brandon, the district’s director of special services. “The pathways provide them an outlet to release energy and, in return, can have a positive effect on school climate, culture and relationships.”

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"When our administrators explained that they would like to add sensory pathways to our elementary schools I was very excited. I happened to have learned about these pathways a few years ago and understand the multiple of benefits to the children and teachers," said Doug Chapman, president of the South Plainfield Board of Education.

To date, Kennedy, Riley, and Roosevelt have sensory paths in place with Franklin's scheduled to be put down soon; Roosevelt’s, which is in a loop, is located in the hallway outside the art and music classrooms while the paths at the other three elementary schools runs straight down the main hallway between the gym and nurse’s office. 

According to Brandon, students in preschool through fourth grade can go to the sensory pathway as a class or on an individual basis with each school’s occupational, physical, and speech/language therapists also incorporating the path into their sessions. 

“The goal is, over the course of the year, to allow the therapists and teachers to figure out what is the best way for them to use it,” said Brandon. 

Outlets like the sensory pathway, said Katie Raber, an occupational therapist at Roosevelt, are so important with evidence showing that movement helps children refocus. 

“Giving them an outlet retrains the brain and provides a ‘brain break’ so that they are able to go back to class with a better state of regulation of their body and feel more able to return to academics,” Raber said, adding, “Think about how you feel if you’ve been sitting for a while. You can get really fidgety, or really tired, and may want to get up, take a walk…” 

According to Raber, the sensory path also works to ‘calm and organize the body and decrease stimulation.’ “It all depends on the kid. For certain kids, those who are high energy, the [path] will decrease stimulation but for kids who have a low arousal level and who need movement to produce energy, it will bring their energy level up. It depends where the child is on the continuum,” she said. 

“Even though this is an initiative through special services, it is a way to provide an outlet for any child who might need it…” said Brandon. 

“It’s a great thing to have in a school. It’s something you can send your class or a couple of students to, it can be used as a reward or if a student needs a break if a teacher sees someone who may need to refocus,” said Roosevelt Principal Dr. Robert Goman. “It’s physical activity and that little brain break. It is something I would have loved when I was a teacher.”

“The addition of the sensory pathways in our hallways has been very popular amongst our students as they navigate to various spots in our school,” said Kennedy Principal Kevin Hajduk. “This fun way to decrease behaviors and increase cognition through movement is influential for our school. We hope to have continued success with this creative way to make brain connections outside of the classroom.”

Chapman added, "These pathways can give them a brain break while also helping work on motor and sensory development. Sometimes a short break like this can get a child refocused and ready to continue with their learning. The advancements being made in the school district are really special. Kudos to all the entire educational team."

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