by Ochanya McRoberts
Do-it-Yourself Sensory Fun!
As special educators, we’ve all been faced with the task of creating an effective and efficient sensory room or space for our students. We know that sensory rooms can have extensive effects on our kiddos and can make a big difference in a child’s development, and because of this, we want to make these spaces awesome. But realistically, we are often stumped by the thought that it might become too expensive or could possibly take up too much classroom space.
I am happy to share with you that this is not the case! Creating an effective sensory space does not have to be expensive, nor does it require a large section of your classroom space. To help out with this, I’ve compiled a few tips to help you get started. Happy creating!
First, let’s start with considering your students and their needs, as every child is unique, and the sensory spaces/activities you create for them should be unique, too. Start with thinking about the room or space in the classroom that is accessible and how you might be able to incorporate sensory items. This is also the point at which you will want to start brainstorming themes and the kind of input (or output) the area will provide.
Make a list of toys or sensory activities your students like, while making sure to incorporate their interests and passions as much as possible. Also, try to remember that all spaces are usable; a corner, a closet, or a simple wall could be the perfect starting point for your work if you do not have an entire room to spare.
Once you have developed your ideas for the space and an enjoyable theme, it’s time to start thinking about how to pull it all together.
The Right Stuff
With your desired space in mind, it’s time to do an inventory of your kiddos’ needs. Not all students need the same kinds of sensory stimuli, and it is essential that you have an understanding of what your students’ bodies are seeking. Usually, our kiddos are seeking three basic kinds of stimuli: tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive.
Students who need tactile input may display difficulty with perceiving or interpreting their environment, and may benefit from sensory activities that provide stimuli such as touch, pressure, and temperature.
Students in need of vestibular sensory supports may appear to be clumsy, or they may seek out intense sensory input such as spinning, bouncing, and jumping on a trampoline.
Similar to vestibular needs, students who have proprioceptive sensory needs may appear as clumsy, may fall a lot, or may display a general lack of awareness of their bodies in space.
While you are taking inventory, take note of your students’ behaviors, likes and dislikes, as this information will help you decide the best kind of activities for your sensory area. Also, please be sure to talk with your students’ Occupational Therapist to help pick the right activities.
High-Quality on a Budget
Now that you’ve knocked out the logistics of your project, it’s time to tackle the hard part: how does this fit your budget?! Before you turn your bank upside down, take a few moments to look over your needs list and identify some alternative choices. For example, instead of buying a new swing or trampoline for the corner, a cheaper solution could be a rocking chair or perhaps a yoga ball.
Another example is the all-time favorite ball pit- they’re fun and engaging but can be pricey. Instead, try ordering a kiddie pool and multicolored balls online. And Christmas lights and bulk fabric make fantastic forts or hide-away spots.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You are probably thinking that all of your ideas can’t be ordered online, or, maybe your ideas are so creative that they don’t even exist yet (this happens more often than you think). If this is the case, bringing this area to life might require the use of tools and a little elbow grease, and it’s easy to get discouraged if some of these designs need to be built from scratch. When creating sensory boards, tables or walls, try to remember that materials such as water beads, waterproofing, PVC pipes, vacuum-sealed bags, empty plastic bottles, sand, vegetable oil, and glue are your best friends. You might even strike gold in your own kitchen, basement, or garage. You will be surprised by how many details in your sensory area can be made from re-purposed items/materials!
Now that you’re prepared (and encouraged), go make some awesome, sensory fun!