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Kellie Huff, CCC-SLP | Article

Back to School Sensory Basics

11/5/2012
Back to School Basics

The Absolute Easiest Way Ever to Help Our Children Wake Up in the Mornings

We know the drill, we begin about a week before school starts sending our children to bed earlier and rousing them earlier in the morning, trying to re-set that summer-time body clock. What if I gave you 7 simple steps to make mornings easy regardless of the time of year, type of child, or age of child? Plus, (added bonus), your morning becomes easier too.

Think About the Natural World and How our Bodies Were Designed

First, we just need to admit that our bodies are not designed for much of our modern world. If you and your family enjoy spending time outdoors and even camping, you are probably familiar with going to sleep earlier in the evening, listening to frogs, crickets, owls, perhaps a creek nearby, and waking with the sun, birds and crisp, morning air. Your body may be a little stiff, but you feel awake and alive. Living indoors, we often push our bodies to stay awake longer through the use of artificial lighting, we fall asleep to the sound of dishwashers, dryers or even TV’s and we wake to the blare of alarm clocks or music and bright lights. Often we awake less than refreshed.

Engage your child’s Brain.

Our brains receive information through our 7 (yes, it’s 7 now) senses. It all begins with the brain. In nature, it’s the early bird chirping we hear, followed by the dim light of the sun that initiates the shift from sleep to arousal. Helping our children wake easily doesn’t require engaging all 7 senses. Some will be more effective than others for your child. Try a few. Try them all. See which techniques work best for your children. Then, mix them up a little bit. The brain requires novelty to become alert.

About 15 minutes before you want your child to wake:

1. Sight: Try to keep curtains and blinds open in your child’s bedroom while they are sleeping. The gradual brightening (from the sun) of the room will do some of the work for you. Next, turn on a hall light rather than a lamp or ceiling light in their bedroom.
2. Sound: Our brains process sound even while we sleep. This is why we wake when we hear our children crying. Play music in a central room such as a living room or a den. It doesn’t have to be loud. For morning, I prefer classical music. It doesn’t have lyrics so it doesn’t interfere with any conversation we may have. Additionally, composers such as Mozart and Bach were paid by to create music that engaged and alerted the brain thereby keeping parishioners awake during long sermons. I’ve found it highly effective for improving the morning routine and for use during homework time. You and your children may prefer other genres and I encourage you to try different types of music. Again, novelty will be important throughout the year.
3. Smell: Even if you don’t have time to cook a full breakfast, there are numerous quick breakfast foods that will engage our brains through the sense of smell. Frozen biscuits: You just pop these in the oven and twenty minutes later, you have perfect biscuits and house full of the wonderful aroma of baking bread. Coffee: Even if only for adults, it’s an aroma we associate with mornings and breakfast. Fruit: Some families offer small dishes of sliced fresh fruit to their children before breakfast is ready. The smell and crisp taste has an immediate alerting effect on the brain.
4. Temperature: A warm washcloth handed to a child while they are still in bed for washing their face seems to do the trick faster than anything else. I don’t suggest using cold water. The goal here is to help children wake easily, the make the morning routine flow smoothly and to send them off to school ready to learn. The goal isn’t to jolt them awake. Save the cold water for their teenage years.
5. Touch: A gentle back rub or, combined with the warm washcloth above, the washcloth applied to the face stimulates the skin and awakens the brain. Changing from pajamas to school clothes. In the winter, clothes freshly pulled from the dryer maintain their heat for a little while. I’ve seen children quickly jump from a warm toasty bed and into warm toasty clothes without a complaint.
6. Vestibular: The sense of balance. After you’ve applied the above techniques, most children are well on their way to a pleasant morning experience. But they may still be in bed. Pretending to roll them out of bed engages their vestibular system and sense of balance. This is usually where much children are ready to move on out of bed, drop off the washcloth in the bathroom or laundry room and head to the kitchen for a hot biscuit.
7. Proprioception: The sense of motion. Getting them moving. Being silly and rolling out of bed. Dancing to the music playing in the den. Engaging in some family exercises. A body in motion stays in motion.

Bonus section: As adults, the number one reason for difficulty sleeping is a brain that is engaged in thought. Usually we wake in the middle of the night and, if we don’t return to sleep quickly, our brains begin to think about all the things we need to do the next day as well as all the things we forgot to do the previous day. Once our brains are engaged in thinking, there is no returning to sleep. We can use the same technique to our advantage with our children.
Riddles and Jokes: Keep a book of simple riddles or jokes handy and ask your child to solve the riddle or guess the joke. They don’t have to be complicated. Sometimes, the simpler they are, the sillier and the better the morning.
Math problems: From simple to complex. Even answering “what’s 14 times 5?” is enough to engage more adult names.
Ask about activities or events that your child is eagerly anticipating.
Ask your child to recall pleasant events that happened in the past.

I hope these suggestions help make your mornings easier for years to come. I’ve even found them helpful with teenagers and adults. Again the key is novelty and gentleness. The goal is an easy, pleasant morning experience that your children will remember fondly for the rest of their lives.

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