Guest blog by Amy Milligan, Special Education teacher at Martha Reid Leadership Academy in Mansfield ISD.
Redesigning an old classroom and bringing it to life over the summer was not only exhausting but very exciting. Adding personality and functionality together was quite a feat. My special ed team came together over the summer to redesign a classroom with purpose. We felt that in order to utilize the space wisely, we needed to create station learning. Within each station, it needed to provide a recognizable task or activity. We wanted an area that we could have group instruction, but also individual areas for the students to work independently. We came up with an island of study carrels in the middle of the room. Each study carrel became a particular student’s office and included the following……a picture schedule of what their day looked like, a behavior visual depending on the student with expectations, and most importantly a laminated flipchart with individuated education goals for each of the content areas. Another section of the room was set up with bean bags and a Tiki Hut for our library which also includes books and puzzles. We kept the flow of the room by adding a listening center accompanied by IPADS right under the magnetic board where we do calendar time. In order for the students to know where to sit during this activity, colored spots with their names on them are visible. Every classroom benefits from a computer center section, so we used a horseshoe table to do this. In order to keep up with our island and beach scene (walls were painted like an ocean with a beach base and blow up sharks suspended from the ceiling), we added an oversized umbrella with a sturdy base and draped in clear wrap around lights. Our goal for the redesigning of the classroom was to enhance learning with stimulating aesthetics, easy to identify the section and its purpose, and a free flow from section to section. Our team felt so excited about the transformation of the classroom, we moved on to another old classroom and created a Sensory Integration room.
The function of the SI room is to enhance experiences with touch, sight, sound, smell, taste, movement, body awareness, and the pull of gravity. Our sensory wall started out with 12 X 12 rubber tiles that fit together like a puzzle (various colors) and hot glued them together using as many variations of textures as we had tiles for touch. Some examples are pennies, mirrors, and feathers. Sound has many uses in a sensory lab. Our electric keyboard, drums, and chimes are used to motivating the mind and body. We use a Promethean Board as well with an unlimited number of movement songs. This enables the students to not only hear the sounds but visually watch the movement. (Our favorite is “Go Noodle”, put together by Cook’s Children’s Hospital) Our oversized physical balls are amazing for stimulating the power of balance simply by rolling over or just sitting on.
There are many other functions of the SI room we use. Since recreation-leisure is a skill that not all special needs friends get to experience successfully, we incorporate it with purpose. Some skills include but are not limited to: pretend play, motor planning, sharing with others, and interactions with others (Autism population) turn-taking, and cleaning up after play. Our lab is set up for free play where students are encouraged to select their own activity. (Puzzles, Lego wall, individual sensory buckets or the oversized sensory bins which are filled according to the month/holiday) Parallel play and model behaviors are our Guided free play. Lastly, but not limited to, are our table games used for turn taking, sharing, rule following, relationship building).
Whether a student identified with Autism or Intellectual Disabled, they are able to benefit from the different sensory processing experiences and opportunities.