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Sensory Savvy Back to School Tips

Written on . Posted in Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, Sensory Room

For those with special needs like sensory processing disorder (SPD), autism, or learning differences, school can be a major transition, so having the right sensory tools for the classroom can make a big difference. 

What had become stable and routine over the summer becomes uprooted and unstable for a while until a new routine is established. But don’t fret; a few sensory supports for the classroom can mean a smoother transition, better attitude, and better school experience.


Teachers: Sensory Tools for the Classroom

1. Keep them moving

A lot of students with sensory processing disorders will find sitting still all day very difficult – without sufficient stimulation, their brain is more likely to go to more distracting places.

Wherever possible, get kids moving! Ask for help with moving chairs or holding doors open, or send a student on an errand to the office. You could even use movement as part of learning to get kids moving around the classroom.

Another great sensory tool for the classroom is to offer alternative seating, like wobble seats or bean bags. These make sitting still more sensory, allowing for better engagement.


HALT stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired; these are four emotions that can make a neurodivergent or disabled student’s day significantly more difficult. A snack, a smile or a nap may be in need! We love a sensory room experience to reduce stress and help students get back into a mindset for learning. A sensory corner in a classroom can also have a huge impact, without the need for students to even leave the room.

Learn more about what a sensory corner is and how it’s ideal for the classroom over on our blog.

3. Offer sensory options

Adding a few sensory supports to the classroom can make a more accessible learning environment, without the risk of being distracting to other students. For example, if you can provide some basic fidget toys like stress balls, tangle toys or pop-mats, then you won’t have students coming in with fidget spinners covered in lights that make a lot of noise!

A sensory corner can be ideal for this, as they give students a space within the classroom to engage themselves in sensory activities, and they don’t even need to disengage from the lesson – a student could sit in a beanbag (like the LED Fiber Optic Softie) in a sensory corner and work from there while meeting their sensory needs.


4. Visual timers

Routine is important for every child, but one way to help neurodivergent or disabled students is to offer visual timers, such as a written rundown of the day on the whiteboard, timers for certain tasks and countdowns to any big changes.

Sensory tools for the classroom like these can help students cope with transitions and makes expectations much clearer, while reducing the number of times you must verbally repeat an instruction or reminder. 

5. Be considerate of individual needs

It can be difficult to meet every child’s individual needs without turning the classroom into a free-for-all, especially within large classes. However, wherever possible, it’s important to be considerate that disabled and neurodivergent children will have different needs in order to reach the same level of focus as their neurotypical counterparts.

Talk with other teachers to ensure that neurodivergent students in your class receive a consistent experience, and to see what they have found works for them with that child.


Parents: Sensory Tools for Students at Home

1. Stay calm

The school year can be very chaotic, and your kids need you to help them navigate through what lies ahead. To do this, you need to be calm and collected (at least in front of the child!). If you panic and stress about getting school supplies together, finding shoes that fit and whether they should get the bus this year, they’ll pick up on that energy and might associate school with stress and fear.

Stay calm and carry on. Your child may feel overwhelmed or stressed the first few days or off and on for even a few weeks, and it’s important that you display a calm demeanor to make it easy on them.

2. Make a routine

From the school year, to summer, to back to school, kids go through a lot of changes over just a couple of months and that can be overwhelming. One thing that might help is setting up a clear routine of how the school day will run, from getting up to brushing teeth, having breakfast, going to school and what happens after school. It’s worth adding in some time to decompress after school, whether your child wants to run around the yard or sit in a quiet room by themselves for a while.

If you’re already into the throes of school, helping your child plan out a homework schedule and organize upcoming tests and projects can help prevent meltdowns and minimize stress. It will also teach them ways to keep themselves organized when they’re older!


3. Meet the team

As a parent, this can be accomplished before school starts, but even better after a week or two of school, or at regular intervals. Attend your student’s open school night and then set up a meeting with specific teachers, or the entire team to make sure everyone is on the same page with regard to IEPs, and concerns or goals for your child that you would like met.

Try to understand how your school operates so you can be sure you have chosen the right place for your student. If they are not able to accommodate your child, perhaps you need to supplement, or look elsewhere. With that said, it is always advisable to work with the team and the current school. A face-to-face meeting can be highly beneficial if you can organize it, and if not, try a phone or Zoom call. Come prepared with your questions and suggestions, and be ready to listen.

4. Something new

When looking at school supplies for your child, make sure they have their preferences considered. For example, they might have a favorite old product that they can reasonably take to school, like a pencil grip that they find super comfortable. Sensory supports for the classroom can go a long way in helping children with sensory needs to adjust to school.

5. Prepare for after school

School is a long day for kids, where they have to concentrate and meet expectations at all times and remember a lot of stuff. Even with the right sensory tools for the classroom, it’s exhausting! So don’t begrudge your kids a chance to decompress however they do best after school. If you can, give them a half hour or an hour to just do whatever, before they start on homework or chores. 

This can lessen the chance of a meltdown, because they’ll be able to avoid being overwhelmed or calm themselves down if they do feel overwhelmed.


Sensory Rooms for Schools

Sometimes, the best thing for a student is to be able to step away. A sensory room can give students the power to take themselves away when they feel overwhelmed or agitated in the classroom, allowing them to calm themselves down before returning to the learning environment. 

If you are interested in learning more about sensory rooms for schools, whether you are a teacher looking to create one or a parent looking to encourage their kid’s school to invest, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team today. 

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