Sensory Rooms in Schools – Why They’re Needed & How to Build One

Multi-sensory rooms are areas that are established to help students calm down or refocus during the school day. These rooms contain various items that help relieve anxiety or overstimulation that may have occurred in the classroom. The goal of sensory room items is to allow children a break and have a pleasurable experience through special implements that relate to textures, lights, sounds, and smells.

What Are the Benefits of Sensory Rooms in Schools?

Building sensory rooms in schools can benefit students immediately and lead to improved outcomes. Sometimes, students with autism, behavioral challenges, or attention deficits may be sent out of their district for services. However, a sensory room at the school site provides these students with a safe place within a familiar setting– and in the least restrictive environment.

Besides offering a way to soothe and de-escalate students, research shows that calming rooms in schools can increase participation and focus among many children. Some specific benefits of multi-sensory rooms include:

  • Increased concentration
  • Mental and physical calmness
  • De-escalation
  • Sensory improvement: touch, sight, hearing
  • Cause-effect relationships
  • Improved social exchanges
  • Fine and gross motor skill development

Additionally, teachers and specialists can tailor their approaches to individual students and target specific skills during the multi-sensory room session. Although the initial expense of setting up a sensory room can be pricey, schools can save money in the long haul by keeping student support services onsite.

Where to Get Grants for Sensory Rooms?

Sensory therapy requires the appropriate tools, and those costs can add up quickly. The primary expense of setting up a space at a school site is specialized equipment, such as sensory room items. Fortunately, there are several options to find grant money for sensory rooms. With dozens and dozens of options available, the odds of securing a grant are high. Here are just some of the foundations that may supply sensory room grants:

Researching local foundations can yield results, depending on where a school is located, its grant needs, and its school population. Another increasingly popular avenue for raising funds is crowdfunding, which allows people to donate to your cause. Local businesses and school fundraisers can also raise significant funds.

Sensory Room Items – Creating a Sensory Environment

Students with different cognitive and physical challenges require unique therapeutic approaches. Whether a student needs visual, auditory, kinesthetic, or tactile stimulation, the right items make all the difference. Some items commonly found in sensory rooms include:

  • Bubble tubes
  • Fiber optic lighting
  • Image projectors
  • Canopies
  • Bean bags
  • Bouncing balls
  • Battle ropes
  • Scooter boards
  • Bins filled with different materials and textures
  • Body socks
  • Platform swings
  • Suspended equipment
  • Many more, chosen by specialists to meet individual students’ needs

Serving students with sensory needs is complex, and the sensory room that schools create incorporates the various needs of individual students at a school.

Sensory Rooms and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased anxiety in many people, and students with learning and physical challenges are no exception. Routines have been disrupted, outdoor activity – such as recess – minimized, and social interaction is deeply compromised. With this increased uncertainty, many students can benefit from sensory rooms more than ever. Research proves that even before COVID-19, anxiety among children was on the upswing. While sensory rooms are primarily used by students with special needs, other students can benefit from their calming and soothing effects, as well.

However, the rules of sensory rooms have changed, at least temporarily. Some significant changes that schools should consider are:

  • Maintain social distance. Space out at least 6 feet apart.
  • Wear a mask or facial covering. All sensory room users, both adults and students, should cover their nose and mouth appropriately.
  • Check each individual who enters. Forehead thermometers are affordable and reliable and can identify those with fevers.
  • Disinfect furniture and surfaces regularly. If using covers instead, wash them often.
  • Clean electronic devices frequently. Many people touch these devices, so wipe them down at regular intervals.
  • Wash hands. Make sure that the sensory room is stocked at all times with soap and hand sanitizer.

Although these safeguards can impact some of the sensory room’s effectiveness, the benefits of having such a place far outweigh any limitations.

The Importance of Serving Students with Sensory Needs

Students with learning, behavioral, emotional, and physical needs require individualized treatment and intervention plans. Schools support these students in many ways, but the sensory room is proving to be a vital tool in these children’s success. Specialists can help in many ways, by guiding students to the appropriate sensory item as needs arise. OTs can help ease sensory issues through sensory therapy, allowing students to adapt to different stimuli and grow socially and behaviorally.

However, sensory rooms help in more ways than one. Sensory rooms are not helpful just to Occupational Therapists and special education teachers who include them in their toolkit. Students in general education classes, special day programs, and resource learning centers can all benefit, as well. As children return from sensory rooms refreshed, calm, and rejuvenated, they often improve their classroom behaviors and performance.

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