Making a busy classroom a safe but stimulating place for children with sensory issues can be a real struggle. A sensory overload of noise, colours and activity can all be too much for some children. There are a number of ways that you can reassure and calm children who struggle with sensory bombardment during an active school day.
Of course, all children have different sensory needs and will respond differently to interventions. Working out what’s best for the individuals in your class will help you make the most of everyone’s day… hopefully without too many hiccups!
Build in time to dance and stretch. This will wake your pupils up and get them in the mood to start the day. It’ll also help them burn off any extra energy before it’s time to concentrate. There are loads of ideas for basic exercises ideal for classroom use online, or you can simply put on some lively music and go! Just ten minutes of movement at the beginning of the day can make a real difference, and when you’re finished children will recognise that the day has started and it’s time to learn.
Visual timetables and lists are a great way to remind children of where they should be, what they should be doing and what equipment they need. Use bright, colourful pictures to remind children of what is happening each day and help them stay organised. For older and more able children, add pictures of clocks showing when an activity starts and finishes to their timetable to help understand the concept of time.
Some children with sensory issues (including those with autism and dyspraxia) can struggle to eat a varied, balanced diet. This can be because they do not like the texture, smell or taste of certain foods. Introducing new types of foods into a child’s diet gradually can help you to avoid stressful meal times, both at school and at home.
Playing with a variety of foods with different textures (e.g. dry cereals, baked beans) before introducing them into a child’s diet can be a good way to introduce them to different foods without putting any pressure on them to eat them straight away.
Many children will benefit from having a fidget toy handy in class to help them focus and concentrate in lessons, especially in the afternoon when attention wanes! This not only makes for improved learning, but can aid memory and reduce behavioural problems in class which can distract other pupils. There is a variety of fidget aids available, from textured balls and wooden toys to subtle pencil toppers for older children. Angled cushions, weighted lap pads and writing slopes can also make sitting still for periods of time easier for fidgets.
If possible, provide a quiet place for children to have some ‘time out’ if they need to calm down or simply process the day’s events. Soft textures, coloured or changing lighting and calming music can all help relieve sensory overload and help children regain a sense of balance. If you don’t have enough room to set a ‘time out’ space apart from the rest of the class, simply using ear defenders and a privacy board can also help children block out external influences. Placing small visual products such as liquid timers on a pupil’s desk can also help soothe them at the end of a busy day.
For more sensory ideas see our website.