The Balancing Act

Being a teacher is like being a tightrope walker.  It sounds simple, teach children reading, writing and arithmetic.  Instill a love of learning in all students.  Keep parents up to date on how their children are doing.  Collaborate with other teachers and administrators.  Work with the school occupational therapist and speech therapist to help students who need these services.

Consider that there are 24 to 32 (or more) personalities in any given classroom.  Outgoing kids, quiet kids, kids who are quick to learn, kids who need more time.  Then there is the sensory component that occupational therapists are familiar with: kids whose vision or hearing may not work as well, kids who need more time to process what they hear or see, kids who don’t quite know where they are in space so they bump into others unintentionally or fall out of their chair, kids who are easily distracted by what is happening around them, kids who need more stimulation to be able to pay attention, kids who are easily overwhelmed by noise, movement and/or visual input, kids who are dealing with a combination of the above. 

Classrooms have changed considerably over the years.  Gone are the days when the décor consisted of a blackboard (remember those?), a globe, a flag, the ABCs, and maybe a potted plant.  Today’s classroom, walls are decorated with the children’s work, the ABCs, pictures and posters of scenes that pertain to the lessons being taught, brightly colored rugs, a globe or world map, supplies such as pencils and pens are in plain sight, as well as the teacher’s work area.  For many children, this setting helps them to increase their energy to a level where they are engaged and interested in learning.  Others who already are engaged and interested often tune out the visual.  But some children are overwhelmed by the visual input and become dysregulated and inattentive.  How can teachers create an environment that helps all children learn? 

A wise teacher told me how she made this work.  When the school year began, she called all her first and/or second graders around her and read them the story of a boy who was having a horrible day.  When he came to the point where he could not take it anymore, he would shout “I want to go to Australia!”.  After the story ended, she showed the class a corner of the room that she had partitioned off on three sides, and inside she had placed bean bag chairs, and pillows.  She told the children that this was their version of Australia, and that they could go there if they were having a horrible day and/or needed a break. 

Giving children the option of a quiet space where they can go when they need a break is an excellent way to support kids who do better in a calm atmosphere, while at the same time supporting kids who need more stimulation to stay alert. 

Teachers and parents, you’re on the front line every day.  We would love to hear from you, to see what works in your classroom and at home.   


Moira Sullivan

Moira uses a holistic approach that promotes healthy development in the child while honoring and supporting their relationship with their family and the community. A graduate of San Jose State University, she has advanced training in sensory integration, visual perception and visual-motor integration, DIR Floortime, oral motor rehabilitation, strength and endurance training, and myofascial release.