Second grader Ingrid Linkswiler does wall pushups in the sensory hallway at St. Germaine Catholic School.

Second grader Ingrid Linkswiler does wall pushups in the sensory hallway at St. Germaine Catholic School.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

Giving children room to promote better learning

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published November 22, 2019

 Second grader Jaysen Harrold uses the sensory floor Nov. 19.

Second grader Jaysen Harrold uses the sensory floor Nov. 19.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske


ST. CLAIR SHORES — Imagine sitting still as someone speaks for hours on end about subjects that may or may not be interesting to you, but that you’ll be expected to retain and be quizzed on later.

Day after day, for months on end.

If that sounds like torture, imagine having the energy of a 5-year-old.

That is how many children feel about attending school each day, and teachers are taking notice.

Colleen Maciejewski, a third grade teacher at St. Germaine Catholic School, pointed out that, in prior generations, students would get recess twice a day to give them a brain break and give them time to run off energy. That doesn’t happen anymore, and just as most adults couldn’t be expected to sit and pay attention for an eight-hour staff meeting, students shouldn’t be expected to sit and concentrate that long either.

That’s why she and other teachers at St. Germaine Catholic School are trying to engage the other senses of their students, helping the majority of children who aren’t just visual or auditory learners.

“We’re trying to focus on sensory a lot,” she said. “They need to reset their brain.”

She and first grade teacher Kelly Suchota have been working to help students focus on learning by encouraging them to “get the wiggles out.” From adding flexible seating options like bucket seats, couches, ball chairs and pillows that can be used for reading time or doing classwork, to starting the day with greetings like “let’s dance” and teaching tactile math, where students first learn new concepts through touch, the elementary school is incorporating different strategies to help students learn at every level.

“We were looking for ways to help those kids who needed more help that we didn’t have,” Suchota said.

Maciejewski said they wanted to be more inclusive of the needs of different students at the school.

“We’re learning different approaches to teach that we can incorporate more movement and learning styles so we can reach more children,” Maciejewski said.

A sensory floor installed in a hallway of the school is a new way for kids to physically engage when they need to take a break from their desks as well.

The floor, which the teachers created on their Cricut vinyl machines and then installed with the help of parent volunteers, has alphabet hopscotch and a place for children to bear walk, perform frog jumps, and do wall pushups and other activities.

It’s in the same hallway as the elementary school bathrooms, and for good reason.

“Often, they do that and take their bathroom break” at the same time, Suchota said. “It’s nice that it’s outside of our classroom so it doesn’t disrupt (instruction).”

While purchasing the kit for a sensory hallway and having it installed can cost upward of $1,500 or more, because the teachers created it themselves and installed it with the help of parent volunteers, it cost just $200 for materials, which included enough vinyl to install inspirational and welcoming messages throughout the school as well.

Maciejewski said they spent about four days creating and cutting out all the vinyl for the floor, and another eight hours to install it in the hallway with the help of three parents and another teacher. The school’s custodian then applied several coats of wax to make sure the designs will last.

“People were very excited to see it come to life,” Maciejewski said.

Suchota said they first came up with the idea a year ago and spent months combing through designs online to find the perfect fit for St. Germaine. One of the features, a giant sunflower, was designed by a first grade parent because the design wasn’t already available.

“The parents, we couldn’t have done it without them,” Suchota said.