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sensory friendly environmentClassrooms today are filled to the brim with children who would benefit from sensory breaks whether they have a formal diagnosis or not.  More and more emphasis is being placed on the rigors of academics and less time is being spent doing what kids really need to do most – play.  Because of this shift, more and more children are in need of a sensory friendly environment.

Rebecca Moyes’, author of Building Sensory Friendly Classrooms to Support Children with Challenging Behaviors: Implementing Data Driven Strategies, shares tools to help teachers adapt their classrooms into a sensory friendly learning environment.

Simple Sensory Solutions

Over the years, teachers have at least heard about students with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).  Some teachers, however, have very little knowledge about the details of SPD and need support in thinking about simple changes they can make in their classrooms to accommodate each of the senses. To get teachers headed in the right direction, Moyes suggests addressing these areas:

  • If a child has visual sensitivities with ceiling lights that are too bright, light filters can be placed to soften the effects.
  • If another child becomes anxious with too much noise due to auditory sensitivities, tennis balls can be placed on the bottoms of chair and desk legs to dull the sound of scraping.
  • If a child frequently smells his materials, providing him with smelly markers or small vials of aromas to open and smell, may help to increase his focus.
  • Some children may crave touch. Affixing a piece of Velcro underneath her desk to rub her hands on may provide controlled opportunities to get tactile input.
  • Some children like to chew or make mouth noises. So, we could provide that student with something to eat or drink.  More and more teachers are allowing food and drink in the classroom.

Collect Data

For educators who may a bit more SPD-savvy, Moyes shares the first steps to take in collecting data to facilitate a best-approach plan for a child they suspect may have sensory-driven behaviors.  Moyes advises, “It helps to start with an assessment. I personally like the SPM – an instrument that has a parent and teacher component. Once a particular deficit is targeted for intervention, begin by choosing one or two sensory-related interventions for that particular “sense”. For instance, if it is a concern centered around gustatory input, choose one or two interventions (chewing gum, mints, water bottle) and take data before and after the intervention begins to see if the child’s behavior has improved. The only caution is that you have to specifically identify what type of behavior you are trying to improve.  Is it the child’s attention? Is it completion to task? Is it a reduction in self-stimulatory behavior? You must choose a data collection tool (or design one of your own!) that matches what you are trying to measure.”

Create a Classroom Space for Sensory Breaks

Once data is collected and plans are in place, accommodations might include offering students sensory breaks to get their systems reorganized before continuing on with studies. Tools for a sensory break space need not be expensive. Moyes suggests the following budget-friendly ideas:

Additionally, to help educators who may be daunted by the potential time and expense of creating a sensory break space, Rebecca suggests enlisting parents to make weighted lap pads or weighted neck rolls. These are simply fabric squares or tubes stuffed with rice or small beans. They might also be willing to donate fidgets that can be found at local dollar stores such as squeegy toys, jacks, rubberband balls, light wands, etc.

To simplify this entire process, many teachers are adapting sensory friendly classroom environments by implementing these strategies for all children in their classrooms.  With the increased academic rigors, it would be wise to have an arsenal of sensory strategies at your fingertips this year to ensure you have attentive children who are eager to learn!

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Martianne is a homeschooling mom with over 20 years of experience in education, youth work and dramatic arts both in the United States and abroad. With certifications as a Middle School Generalist and English 8-12 teacher, plus a drawer full of certificates from a wide variety of professional development workshops and graduate courses, she brings a comprehensive “traditional” background to her present-day creative pursuits. Visit Martianne at Training Happy Hearts.