Sensory Stations Enhance Learning at Oaklawn

Sensory Stations Enhance Learning at Oaklawn
Posted on 12/04/2018
This is the image for the news article titled Sensory Stations Enhance Learning at Oaklawn

It’s all about providing balance for Mrs. Elizabeth (Graves) Roach in her first grade classroom at Oaklawn Visual & Performing Arts (OVPA) Magnet School. Through the use of sensory stations/exercises and kinesthetic learning techniques, she creates a unique classroom setting for a diverse of array of students with diverse needs and talents. Looking around, you may find a bean bin, shaving cream table, chalk desk, bouncy balls, water beads, and other non-traditional items because in her classroom all curriculum is tied to a sensory learning experience and student-led dialogue and problem solving.

With her approach, Mrs. Roach assumes that all children at every level need touch, play, and sensory exercises as part of their learning to help them learn material in a way that is memorable to them. Sensory stations are one way that she brings that principle to life. Mrs. Roach spends the first few weeks of school with students exploring the stations, or activities and and props spread out across the classroom space. The exploratory process is very important because as students explore the stations, she is teaching them the rules and maintenance of each station and the items included.

“Anything sensory enhances learning,” Mrs. Roach explains. “Through sensory stations, they have observational time and a hands-on experience in between active learning to retain information. The sensory stations give them the balance they need to focus.”

As they move through the school year, students phase to a period where they complete sensory stations as part of academic activities in reading, math, and science, within the current unit of curriculum. The stations and activities are fun for them, so the academic pieces are threaded in and they still enjoy what they are doing. What do these look like? One sensory station is a rice bin where students place their hands into a large bin of rice grains feeling for an object. Objects in the rice bin may include a toy spider, dice, rings, rulers, pictures of objects, miniature animals, and any object or card Mrs. Roach can find to coincide with a sight word, sound, or math fact. Another sensory station is a sand bin, where students use magnetic sticks to write words or math facts into the sand. She also has a chalk desk, which is a large desk with a chalk surface. At the chalk desk, students explore words and art by drawing with chalk. She also has a shaving cream station, where students explore skills by drawing with the shaving cream onto a surface like cookie sheets.

Sensory stations are not only to create memorable sensory experiences that help with learning, they are also to help students with coping. Kids at every learning level have different moments of frustration throughout the day depending on how they learn, process information, their support system, and other factors. One station is simply a bucket of wet beads. Students use that station for calm and soothing when they need a break from challenges like a change in a schedule or a new concept.

A “Take Five” area is a special station that allows students to deal with anger. Mrs. Roach spends time at the beginning of each year explaining how the area is to be used by her as a way to remind students that they need to “Take Five” because of a disruptive behavior or the breaking of any classroom rules, or can be requested by students when they feel themselves losing control. In the Take Five area, students have a process established for them, which includes several steps: 1) They set a five-minute timer, 2) They identify what they are feeling with the help of an itemized card- whether they are angry, sad, frustrated, or an array of other feelings across a broad spectrum of options with photographs for them to circle; 3) Then they are provided with options on a coping card for alleviating the distress, which may be simply by being quiet, by taking a walk, by stretching, by having a drink of water, by reading or drawing, or by writing more about what they are feeling. Mrs. Roach points out that she has very few discipline problems because this method allows students to learn how to stop problems as they begin to feel angry and more or less fix their own possible discipline issues before they start.

“We use this motto a lot in here - ‘If you know better, do better.’ By using strategies like the Take Five area, which empowers students to be in control of their own feelings; and a Reward Board, where I let students define rewards that they value like sitting in my chair or choosing the music, or being the boss of the table, I am making them the problem solvers,” says Mrs. Roach. “They become the ones making the decisions about doing what is right and they really take pride in that after they understand how to do it.”

Sensory stations are tied to problem solving and dialogue. In her classroom, Mrs. Roach begins the school year with a chair assessment - which sets the tone for a year full of student-led decisions. In a chair survey, students are introduced to the concept of creating their own learning environment. They choose whether they might prefer to stand, sit on a stool, sit on a bouncy ball, sit at a group table that has shared space, sit at a group table but with private space, or sit in an area as far away from others as possible. The agreement is established that at anytime Mrs. Roach can change the seating preference for a day based on needs, or a student can request to have his/her preference changed.

Like the chair assessment, Mrs. Roach adds sensory stations or special activities oftentimes following specific student requests to do so. For example, the coping station (the wet beads discussed above) was an idea from the students to include a station entirely dedicated to soothing in between academic activities and/or lessons. The open dialogue between the teacher and students leads to a classroom culture that enables positive social interaction and memorable collaboration among students.  

Sensory stations and sensory learning in general can be messy and complicated, but Mrs. Roach claims it’s all worth it. “I don’t pretend to have it all figured out, and my students aren’t perfect - but I do believe that sensory learning has a place in any lesson or experience we provide to our students. I’m here to do my very best for these kids - just like we all are - and I see a lot of success with sensory methods.”

Learn more about our OVPA Magnet School, here.
Website by SchoolMessenger Presence. © 2022 Intrado Corporation. All rights reserved.