We have recently said goodbye to our sensory room installation that has been up since the beginning of this school year, and are transforming it into a more general atelier for different project work right now. While it felt like it was time to move on with this space, I was also sad to see this particular installation go. Everything moves and changes here as our interests wax and wane, and we needed more space to get messy and get our hands in clay, etc. But not to worry- this sensory room lives on in many materials and provocations in our classroom as exploring sensory input is important work at this age.
Each year teachers spend many hours in continuing education- taking classes, attending workshops, and networking with other educators. Last year I took a course about Autism and sensory processing. All children, and especially those with sensory processing challenges, need to explore the world around them with every sense. Generally speaking, “tactile” exploration is through touch, “vestibular” exploration is through sight and sound, and “proprioceptive” is through movement. Some sensations make us feel calm and soothed, some sensations are abrasive. For children with sensory processing challenges, the need or lack of certain inputs is much higher. They might need to feel their way through their environment more than others- maybe bumping, rubbing, bouncing, and rolling along as they move through the world. Or children can be very sensitive to sensory input and tend to avoid touching, etc. While sensory processing challenges can come with a lot of frustrations for a child, curated sensory spaces can help children cope with sensory stimuli. Children’s brains can better regulate processing external stimuli when they are given the tools and space to cope with some of these things.
A sensory room often looks like a funky nightclub at a children’s museum. Lights are dim and often fiber optic, and there are interesting things to interact with to receive different sensory input. Some children might seek out stimulating experiences, others might need a more relaxing environment. So when designing our space, I tried to incorporate a little bit of everything I could find to pull together a room that every child might like to explore. I found interesting lights and even scored some rope lights, we turned our wrestling mat into a cozy couch with pillows of different tactile experiences (some soft, some sequined, some beaded), I brought in an electric blanket, put together a ball pit, and even built an elastic cube. We used our video projector to bring soothing and fun sights and sounds to the room, and moved to a more interactive light projector when the room didn’t seem as frequented any longer.
The children explored the room for the past couple months, and while it often turned into ball pit tossing, it was also a place of calm for many children at times. But while the sensory offerings we provide at school have changed now that this installation has changed, we still have materials and space for all of this work at school. We always have a cozy “calm cave” in our classroom where children are welcome to take breaks on a mattress full of soft pillows and blankets when they need it, and within this space there is a “calm cubby”. The calm cubby has weighted lap blankets and stuffed animals, bottles filled with bubbles and glitter to shake and watch settle, a variety of fidgets, lavender pillows, and books and charts to support emotional regulation. We provide a variety of tactile provocations and projects, bring lots of music and movement to our days, and try to keep our lighting soft and warm. So maybe this installation will return to our school again in full force, but we are always thinking about the children’s sensory needs in the work and environment here.