Ram Relax Cart Bolsters Mindfulness
A trio of occupational therapy professors recently unveiled an innovative “Ram Relax Cart” to bolster mindfulness among students.
The instant reaction surpassed their wildest dreams. Within hours, most visual and sensory spinners, essential oils, putties, snacks and rocks emblazoned with words like clarity, hope, kindness and passion disappeared. (They had reinforcements, of course.)
The cart arrived in the hallway between the second floors connecting Hayward Hall and the new Kay and Harold Ronson Health and Applied Science Building around 9 a.m. on Thursday, February 6.
The professors behind the idea—Monique Chabot, Mary Beth Thomas and Colleen Zane—restocked it for the first time at noon and then again just before 4 p.m. Suffice it to say, the idea made possible through a $6,000 Nexus Grant was a smash hit.
“This Ram Relax Cart contains various fidgets, mindfulness activities and other tools meant to assist students with relaxing and concentrating in class,” Chabot says. “It’s a common intervention in OT to use these sensory tools to provide needed input to the brain and body to either calm or upregulate a system.”
The cart itself is not unlike furniture found in classrooms worldwide. The tools on it help OT patients and have been reimagined to benefit students across all majors.
On the bottom two shelves, there are bins labeled touch, taste, movement, sight and smell. They contain items like squeeze balls, thinking putty, moveable cube snakes, fidget spinners and squeezable pea pods (for touch); visual timers, sunglasses and a fake fish aquarium (vision); sensory balloons and chair bands (movement); and scented lotion and aromatherapy (smell). Atop the cart sits a Himalayan salt garden, a sign that urges passersby to, “Go outside and get some sunshine,” and a coloring book image with crayons.
A chart guides students on the benefits of the items with notes like, “If scents help calm or focus your mind, try a ‘Smell’ tool” and “If your fingers need to be busy and/or you like to squeeze or fidget with things, try a ‘Touch’ tool.” However, students are asked to refrain from using the tools in class if it becomes an unwanted distraction to their classmates or professors and return the items to the cart when they’re done.
Chabot explains the idea for the cart emanated from many students taking classes on the weekends—when minds are more apt to wander—as well as seeing some students “doing jumping jacks” in the hallway during breaks.
“The cart is based on research evidence that shows people benefit from tools that promote focus and relaxation,” adds Thomas, noting some colleges have started offering “sensory rooms” in other iterations of the same idea. “Our students have busy lives; these simple tools have the potential to go a long way in supporting their mental health and academic achievement.”