In a constantly changing world, kids can often become overwhelmed by their surroundings — especially those with sensory sensitivity issues. For some of your students, having access to a calming space, like a sensory room, can help them tune into their physical senses, regulate their emotions, and become better engaged in learning.
Below you’ll learn more about the benefits of creating a sensory room, as well as tips for adding one to your school while staying mindful of your budget.
What is a sensory room?
Often described as a playground for the mind, a sensory room is a therapeutic space designed with specific equipment or activities that can help alleviate sensory processing difficulties in children or adults. Spaces like these can be especially effective for children with autism, ADHD, Down syndrome, and sensory processing disorders, but they can also be beneficial for all types of students.
Though similar in theory to a calming corner, sensory rooms primarily focus on engaging the senses through sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, movement and balance, body position, and muscle control. The activities used in the space are meant to target specific senses, but in a low-stress environment. This allows students with sensory sensitivities to process and work through reactions to stimuli and develop coping mechanisms. Or, for non-sensitive kids, it offers a calm place to decompress, explore, and engage in mindful play, which increases their ability to focus in the classroom later.
Additional sensory room benefits include:
- Improved communication and social skills
- Increased motor skills
- Improved cognitive development
- Stronger sensory development
How to create a sensory room with zones
Sensory rooms can be dimly lit and relaxing or they can be bright and engaging, depending on the types of activities you’d like to include. However, the overall idea of the space is to engage the senses, so be sure to include activities or sensory tools that are stimulating, but not overly stimulating, such as the following:
- Bubble tubes
- Interactive projectors
- Light up boards
- Tactile manipulatives
- LED lights
- Live fish tanks
A good way to create a sensory room that accommodates all types of students is to divide your space into different zones. This doesn’t mean you need a large space or elaborate equipment. Even if your space is limited, you can still create dedicated zones that engage the senses in different ways. By dividing the areas into active, calming, and interactive, you can include a few items in each zone that allow students to explore and engage different senses. We’ll explore each of these zones below.
1. Active zone
The active zone is an ideal area for students who might require additional sensory stimulation. In this area you’ll want to include movement activities that encourage climbing, jumping, or swinging. These movements help regulate the nervous system, improve motor skills, and assist students in becoming more focused and engaged when they return to the classroom.
Active zone activities:
- Gel Floor Tiles offer a hands-on experience that encourages visual processing and sensory stimulation by allowing kids to sit, step, or jump while watching colors ooze and change. This promotes movement and helps improve gross motor skill development.
- Tents or tunnels, such as the Glow-in-the-Dark Galaxy Tunnel, are also a good way to encourage movement and engagement in mindful play.
- Tumbling mats, such as the Folding Rainbow Mat, enable kids to play and tumble safely.
- The Copernicus Self-Regulation Classroom Cruiser offers an opportunity for students to self-regulate through movement.
2. Calming zone
Calming zones are ideal for students who can become easily over-stimulated by their surroundings. Much like a calming corner, a calming zone in a sensory room offers a soothing area to take a break, relax, and find ways to cope. To keep this area separated from your active zone (especially if they reside in the same space) you may need a room divider, such as a curtain or panel, to help keep noise or light at a minimum.
Calming zone sensory tools
Unlike active zones, calming zones require less activity and more soothing sensory tools such as the following:
- Filtered or fiber optic lighting that encourages a calming atmosphere
- Sensory seating, like the SensaSoft™ Squeezie Seat, which applies soothing pressure for increased sensory input through the trunk
- Weighted products, such as cuddly companions or weighted lap pads send calming signals to the brain
- Soothing swings, like the Lycra® Cocoon Swing, which provides relaxation through calm and relaxed swinging
- Noise-canceling headphones that help students block out unwanted noise
- A blackout tent that creates an instant escape from sensory stimuli
3. Interactive zone
An interactive zone in your sensory room should provide calming activities where students can interact with each other or participate on their own. This zone can include exercises that help students increase their attention span, calm their nerves, and develop postural control.
Interactive zone activities:
- Yoga Spinner® Game Kit – Allows students to engage in mindful physical activity, monitor their emotions and adapt their behavior.
- Yoga Deck for Kids on the Ball Game Kit — Encourages focus, stretching, and breathing while engaging in yoga movements.
Whether you’re focused on one specific area or several at a time, there really is no wrong way to create a sensory room. As long as you provide a calm space that engages the senses while encouraging your students to explore, then you’re already well on your way to helping them learn and grow in new and powerful ways.