Written by Jamie Kent, Resource Teacher, École Alvin Buckwold
Through the generous funding of the Saskatoon Public School Foundation’s Programs of Excellence Grant, École Alvin Buckwold School is home to a new Sensory Room, Body Break Room as well as a portable sensory path. These important self-regulation tools support students in ensuring their bodies are ready for learning in the classroom.
The school’s journey began with learning for both the staff and students to understand what an effective body break is and how students can be involved in this process. All students learned about the importance of Brain Activating Movement and were able to engage in the strength, vigorous and calming portions of a body break.
Incorporating student and teacher voice in the creation of these spaces was important. Teachers noticed that it was difficult to provide all components of a body break for all students within their classrooms and that many students were struggling to self-regulate. They also noted that many students sought active movement within the classroom and that listening to instructions and successfully transitioning between activities could be a challenge.
Students were able to recognize the positive impacts of a body break but identified that there was not a safe space or adequate equipment to complete all portions. This highlighted the need for a calming and welcoming space within the school where students could develop their self-regulation skills.
I like the sensory room because it helps me be calm. When I feel mad or frustrated, it helps me feel better. I like the bean bag chair and the body sock because it’s really fun. I feel happy and ready to do work when I come back.-Grade 5 Student
Creating both a sensory room and a body break room has allowed us to effectively respond to needs identified by our school community. Having an active space with a clear focus on movement and a different and distinct space that focuses on calming and regulation allows for school staff to be responsive to a student’s specific need. It supports and develops student choice and independence and provides the tools and strategies students need to self-regulate as well as advocate for their needs.
The body break room is divided into three sections supported by visuals that reflect the three stages of an effective body break: cardiovascular exercise, proprioceptive exercises, and calming exercises. Students have the choice of a range of tools and are responsible for the care and maintenance of the room and its equipment. The foundation’s grant allowed for the purchase of a trampoline, exercise balls, weighted equipment, light filters and posters in the body break room. These tools have all been recommended by occupational therapists to assist in self-regulation, strengthening motor skills and preparing students for learning.
The sensory room is a relaxing and calming space where students can select the tools they need to self-regulate away from noise and distraction. Students are encouraged to identify their feelings and emotions and plan their time in the sensory room using visuals. The foundation’s grant allowed for the purchase of a light projector, fiber-optic light, white noise machine, floor mats, a bean bag chair, body socks, weighted blanket, fidgets, light filters, a tipi and other activities to support fine motor development and emotional regulation.
Both rooms are used throughout the day with scheduled breaks for intensive-support students. Many other students make use of these spaces on an as-needed basis throughout the day. Breaks can be as short as a few minutes once students have an understanding of the routines and expectations of these spaces or as long as needed to support students to return to their classroom to resume their learning.
To support all students in accessing this important self-regulation equipment, the grant was able to put funds toward a portable sensory path. This allows for guided movement through all stages of a body break in a calming and accessible way. This mat can be placed in the hallway, used in gym class or even brought outside for special occasions. This ensures that all students have the chance to access these important tools throughout the day in a fun, safe and engaging way and are supported in being active and engaged participating in their classrooms.
Having the sensory room and body break rooms has been motivating for students as it allows them to communicate when they need a break in a healthy and social way. It also promotes social connections in a low-pressure environment. It has improved mood in the classroom, ability to focus and time on task and supports student engagement and creativity. Every single student in my classroom has benefited from this initiative.-Teacher
Students report feeling “fresh”, “calm”, “relaxed”, “healthy” and “focused” after participating in the body break room, sensory room or sensory path. Teachers reported a positive increase in the amount of students engaging in classroom work following these kinds of activities, and found that students could focus for a longer period of time. Not only that but students report that these spaces are fun to use!