Noel Primary School Adds Sensory Integration Room
Noel Primary School has a new sensory integration room to help students with sensory issues be more calm and attentive.
“It’s a new type of therapy that has come up for students with special needs,” Speech Implementer Bridget Epperson explained. “They’re finding out today that more and more children have issues with sensory experiences. Because children are raised differently these days — there’s a lot of electronics. This is a way to offer sensory experiences and expose them to different things.”
She said that students can have issues taking in all the sensory information around them, such as lights, smells and sounds. These issues can lead to trouble with their school work, she said. The room helps them focus on whatever sensory area they need so they can better concentrate, she said.
Each session begins with stretching on yoga mats and bouncing on balance balls. These exercises help with gross-motor skills, Epperson said. They might also do a fine-motor activity, such as picking things up with tongs.
Each day they have a lesson. She said she tries to make the lessons relevant to what the children are going through. For example, if someone gets in trouble for saying something mean, the next day’s lesson might be about kind things to say to others. Then the students get to choose from different
“We’ve seen really positive responses. Our students’ parents are loving it because they’ve seen the way it can fulfill their need.”
activities in the room. There is a rice table they can dig in with tools, a ball pit they can climb in and let the balls roll over them, a balance beam, a calming tent, a small trampoline and more. Each component has its own therapeutic benefits. For example, Epperson said, the ball pit has a calming effect because the balls create deep pressure, relaxing the muscles.
How do the students choose which activity to do?
“It depends on what they feel like their sensory need is that day to help them focus better,” Epperson said. “It kind of depends on what their issues are that day and what that need is.”
When the students go back to their classroom, they are more calm and attentive and have fewer behavioral problems, she said.
“We’ve seen really positive responses. Our students’ parents are loving it because they’ve seen the way it can fulfill their need,” she said. “It’s another way education is transforming to meet the needs of children today.”
Noel Primary is the only school in the county that has a sensory integration room. It was made possible through a grant.
“The McDonald County Schools Foundation opens a grant every spring. We wrote a grant. They funded it for us, and we got all these things. All the teachers have banded together and we’ve made things,” she said. “We’re very excited about it, and the kids are loving it.”
She said some teachers may use the room as a reward for their classes, because students do not have to be special needs to use the room.
Epperson said most schools that try this get a small room or a corner.
“We’re fortunate because our principal has jumped on board and we have this big room so we can serve more students. It’s kind of like our whole school’s project. We’re excited to be the school that gets to implement it,” she said.
Dr. Deborah Pearson, principal of Noel Primary School, said, “I’m really excited because we’re already noticing our students being calmer. They’re really excited about it, and when you talk to them about the sensory room, they say, ‘It makes me feel good.’
“Our philosophy and vision is to treat the whole child. The room helps us to treat the children on a different level. When you’re a child with sensory issues you’re not always understood. We work hard to make sure our students are prepared in every way. We’re hoping our kids with sensory needs will be incorporated into classrooms even more … have less sensory issues and be more focused on learning. What’s nice is we start them so young that they just develop faster.”
Bridget Epperson, left, looks on as Corban Ashcraft walks over different surfaces in the sensory integration room at Noel Primary School.