Longtime occupational therapist earns grant for learning path at Quail Run Elementary

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As Lawrence school district staff prepped indoors for the new school year, Occupational Therapist Karen Lassman painted a vibrant outdoor classroom on Quail Run Elementary’s east playground. Thirty hours’ worth of effort later, Lassman had created a sensory path funded with a $1,600 grant from the Lawrence Schools Foundation.

By encouraging movement, the sensory trail aims to increase a student’s ability to focus and enhance their learning potential.


Lassman started on the project at 6:30 a.m. daily before sizzling August temperatures took hold. She stenciled with a kit from The Sensory Path and then painted it.

The path stimulates four sensory systems: tactile or touch; vision; proprioceptive, which sends signals from muscles and joints; and the one responsible for creating dizziness from spinning — vestibular.

“I usually start a session with some sort of movement activity to help the child focus on what we’re working on, especially if we’re doing a table-top activity. Using that jumping, which is called proprioception, it really helps the child focus,” Lassman said.

A brochure designed by Lassman highlights ideas on how her fellow educators might use the tool. Alphabet hopscotch and a lilypad frog jump make up some of the colorful activity options. The pamphlet also explains that movement activates neurons, which receive sensory input, and stimulates the release of good brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. 

“Physical activity has also been shown to increase blood flow to the brain, which provides an increase in oxygen, increasing the student’s ability to concentrate,” Lassman wrote.

She said the path also fights problems like obesity and decreased physical activity, which children across the development spectrum have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With COVID and the kids being home and not moving around as much I think there was more of a need,” Lassman said. “The teachers can be very creative about how they use it. What I like about it is all the different learning possibilities. There’s also a creativity part of it where kids can (play) Follow the Leader and make up their own games as they go along.”

Lassman has worked in the occupational therapy field for 30 years. She grew up south of Lawrence near Wells Overlook Park, where her great-great grandfather started the Lassman family farm. She attended Baker University and the University of Kansas and then left home. Lassman returned to the family farm a couple of years ago. She works in five elementary and middle schools across the district in the special education department.

She said she was particularly excited the entire school community and neighborhood could use the sensory path. A bonus: the project will last for years.

“Interesting enough, the paint was actually hard to get because of COVID and Texas,” Lassman said, referring to the freeze in February that disrupted the petroleum industry and led to supply chain delays. “They actually ended up giving me the professional version of the paint … It should last a long time.”

Lassman said she had enough leftover paint for another sensory path with its location to be determined.

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