In theater, stepping on lines is frowned upon, but it’s encouraged at Easterly Parkway Elementary School.
Jumping doesn’t cross a line there either. If done right, it clears several, exactly the point of a popular addition to the school.
Easterly Parkway’s colorful sensory walkway does more than enliven a main hallway. The winding, looping path brightens days by offering a quick change of pace for students. Following the tape, they can walk on their toes, raise their arms, push against a wall, leap through squares, twist and crouch — a bit of exercise between lessons, after lunch, during indoor recess or en route to the bathroom.
“There are rules to follow — no bumping or jumping on top of people — but it’s basically go have fun,” says Courtney Simpson, an autistic and emotional support teacher who developed the walk. “Go get that movement. Get your energy out and then go take a test or read.”
Last fall, Simpson drew inspiration from researching the prevalence of sensory walkway in Europe. She wanted one for her students, to give them movement breaks, but she also hoped it would be widely used. Her vision has come true, with “go do the lines” now a frequent invitation.
“It’s not specifically for my students,” Simpson says. “It’s for everybody.”
Stepping with raised hands along a yellow line starts the walk. Then comes jumping across three black lines to a wheelchair-accessible station for wall-pushing, both hands, count of five. A zig-zagging red line proceeds to leaps from an orange square to a blue triangle to a yellow hexagon.
From there, things get trickier. A sequence of double arrows requires twisting jumps, a quirky hopscotch calls for a mix of single and double steps, and a final stretch involves duck-walking.
“The sensory walk provides our students a unique way to get a movement break throughout the day,” Principal Danielle Yoder says. “Movement actually provides different types of sensory input for a child, so by allowing large muscles and joints to be engaged in activities such as pushing, jumping, bending, and turning, students can take a few minutes to be active by following a series of specific movements and directions that can positively impact their senses. Children who have opportunities to be active throughout the day have greater attention, faster processing speeds and can even perform better on school work.”
Yoder has enjoyed seeing kindergarteners to fifth-graders complete the path, some quietly on their own, others excitedly taking turns with classmates.
“There has never been a time that I have watched our kids that they are not smiling as they move through it,” Yoder says. “With the required movements within the path, our students are building their gross motor skills while at the same time targeting senses connected to active learning, balance, and even focus.”
Yoder confesses to being tempted to try it herself, an urge a few of her teachers haven’t resisted. The walk has been such a success, Simpson is planning a spin-off tailored for kindergarten. Beyond exercise and practice at following directions, she says, the activity serves as a restorative “brain break” for some children.
“If they’re having a very hard time, I just say, ‘Go do the lines.’ And they go, and then that’s a quick reset for them.”
Video and photos by Nabil K. Mark