The JCC’s Brody Family Early Learning Center is committed to excellence in education and views all children as competent, capable learners. Guided by this philosophy and in response to a post-COVID increase of children who were having difficulty regulating themselves during the school day, Robin Brous, JCC Children’s Services director, and Beth Mitchell, JCC director of Inclusion and Diversity, determined that a sensory pathway would be an important and valuable addition to the JCC’s early learning program.
A sensory pathway provides developmentally appropriate opportunities for children to explore and regulate their sensory systems. It is a proven and effective way for children to move their bodies in intentional ways that support regulation of the vestibular and proprioceptive systems in order to improve their self-regulation so they can participate to their best ability in the classroom.
With the help of JCC partner Dr. Zahava Friedman of the Kean University Occupational Therapy Department, the sensory pathway was carefully planned through a clinical lens and, with the generosity of the John Ben Snow Memorial Trust, became a reality. The John Ben Snow Memorial Trust focuses on grant funding for education-reducing barriers that limit opportunities.
The JCC’s sensory pathway was installed throughout the JCC’s early childhood hallway in the beginning of the school year and in early December, Valerie MacFie, trustee of the John Ben Snow Memorial Trust, joined the staff at the JCC for the sensory pathway ribbon cutting.
After meeting with the team, seeing the children use the pathway and hearing about the results, MacFie was so impressed with the far-reaching impact of something so simple. “It is so different from anything I’ve ever seen and is a strong testament to the idea, planning and execution. I would love to see other schools use this same tool.” Added MacFie, “Focus on mental health is so important these days, and this has had such a positive effect on all the students – we are thrilled that we could help the JCC make this happen.”
The benefits of the sensory pathway extend beyond the classroom. Parents see the connection between the pathway and their child’s sensory and social-emotional regulation. As children walk down the early childhood hallway at drop-off and pick-up, they are able to demonstrate to their parents how the pathway works – from teacher-guided to self-guided. This has helped parents see what regulation means and see it in action. And at home, parents can apply the same concepts to help their children.
Dr. Friedman appreciates the JCC’s unified lens toward development and how the sensory pathway is benefitting all children – not just a handful. “One of the reasons we work so closely with the JCC is that their early childhood philosophy is in alignment with how Kean thinks about things. It’s such a natural fit. And the sensory pathway provides our OT interns with a great learning tool. They want to come to the JCC to learn,” offered Dr. Friedman. Each semester, Beth Mitchell, also a licensed and ASHA certified Speech-Language Pathologist, supervises a number of Kean University’s Occupational Therapy students who gain clinical internship hours working in our Early Childhood program.
All JCC teachers have received hands-on training so they can best use the sensory pathway. The JCC’s commitment to this tool is just another way that the JCC differentiates itself in the childhood education and inclusion arenas. Here, inclusion is a mindset, not a program.
The JCC of Central New Jersey is located at 1391 Martine Ave. in Scotch Plains. The JCC of Central New Jersey is a constituent agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ and the Westfield United Fund. Financial assistance is available for membership and various programs.