Valley Elementary unveils Sensory Path, which is aimed at helping students release excessive energy
By Samantha Bambino
When Valley Elementary special education teacher Lori Hill noticed a need among her students, a need for movement during the school day, she didn’t just vent about it in the faculty room. She took action.
With Valley staff and the Bensalem Township School District behind her, Hill began mapping out initial plans for a Sensory Path. Consisting of a series of fine and gross motor activities such as hopscotch and pausing to take deep breaths, students are guided through sensory-based physical movements, which help to increase focus and regulate emotion.
“Students often come to school with a wide range of obstacles to face, which makes learning difficult for them,” Hill said. “Some of our students have excessive energy that needs to be released before true learning can take place, or have disabilities impede their learning. The Sensory Path helps to address some of those needs.”
Hill applied for a grant through the Just for the Kids Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps fund innovative projects throughout the school district. The $500 Hill was awarded allowed her to purchase all necessary materials, a cost that would’ve exceeded $1,000 if outsourced.
“She spent hours,” praised principal Joan Toller. “Each piece that you see on our Sensory Path, she cut them out, over 3,000 pieces. She had help from her team, but the actual work was really from Ms. Hill.”
On Tuesday, Jan. 15 at 11 a.m., Hill’s efforts were showcased in an unveiling of the Sensory Path, which is installed in a hallway at the school based at 3100 Donallen Drive. According to Hill, there are currently only a handful of Sensory Paths in schools, and she’s thrilled that Valley houses one of them.
“There’s a need in our growing population for students to have more movement incorporated into their day, and that was really the purpose of doing this,” she said.
Valley students Chance Daughtry, Jackson Gale and Jordyn Bell, along with Toller, aided Hill in cutting the ceremonial ribbon, marking the official opening of the Sensory Path. The three then demonstrated how to properly use the space, which resembles an obstacle course. Each followed the trail of activities, which includes pushing on colored handprints placed on the wall while taking deep breaths, reciting the ABC’s while hopping along a circular trail, and giving themselves a big hug at the finish line.
Research has shown that completing these physical movements promotes proprioceptive sensory input, which builds connections within the developing brain’s neural pathways. This helps the students stay calm and regulate their bodies effectively.
In order to maintain the Sensory Path, Toller explained how Valley’s facilities and maintenance departments diligently coated the vinyl pieces on the floor and walls with five layers of wax.
“This is something that’s going to be permanent within our school,” she said.
The Sensory Path is open from the moment students enter the building until they leave. However, Toller stressed that visits to the hallway are regulated.
“Students will not have the opportunity to just come here on their own. It will be a recommendation from a teacher that’s working with the student that feels they need that in order to burn off that energy. So it’s scheduled, it’s prescriptive. It’s certainly purposeful. When students have a need in order to move around, we’re not just taking a lap around the building,” Toller said. “We are a growth mindset school, and we believe in taking those brain breaks.” ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org