Which staff will receive sensory training?
It’s very common that teaching staff have not received training in the senses or supporting regulation. This means they are not always skilled at using sensory rooms or spaces. They might not understand the goals of using the space or the risks associated with it. I would highly recommend that staff have received some training to support them when using the space.
- My Sensory Aware training equips staff with the knowledge and skills they need to support sensory regulation. It explores arousal, regulation, goal setting, managing risks and how to use specific sensory supports successfully.
- If a company is building the space for you, make sure you set up a training handover session where they show you how to use the equipment. I would recommend filming this and making it available to new staff.
- If you are working with PMLD/MLD populations, Joanna Grace at The Sensory Projects has some excellent resources.
- My book Success with Sensory Supports also outlines the fundamentals of using sensory strategies to support regulation.
How will you manage the risk assessments for the sensory equipment?
It is important to consider the risks associated with each piece of equipment in the sensory room. Bigger pieces of equipment, like swings, have larger risks associated with them. But it is also important to consider risks, like choking, associated with small pieces of equipment. Staff should also have knowledge of the signs of over-arousal so that they can adapt the child’s interaction in the space as needed.
There should be a maintenance and cleaning plan for the space and equipment. It’s important to check with the provider if there is any annual maintenance required. For example, electrical equipment will need to be added to your electrical safety check list. It is helpful to a have a designated staff member who is responsible for checking working the state of equipment regularly. They can also take charge of monitoring equipment cleaning.
It is recommended that there are written risk assessments for each piece of equipment. These should outline the risks for both children and staff. They can also identify correct usage of the equipment. Level 3 of my Sensory Aware training provides example risk assessments for common equipment.
You may also need individual risk assessments for individual children. This will depend on the school and the children’s needs. You may be able to include specific risks on the child’s goal sheet so that staff are readily aware of these. For example, if a child doesn’t have adequate postural control to stay on a specific swing, or if they chew a specific item in the room.
What resources will be needed for the sensory room?
The children’s needs will give you the answer to this question. If your children’s sensory profiles indicate they have sensitivity to noise and find visual inputs calming, then your space should accommodate this. However, if they are regulated by movement then you will need completely different resources. Your occupational therapist can help with the children’s sensory profiles, there are also sensory checklists in my Sensory Aware training (Level 2).
It is unlikely your children will have the same needs, so you will have to consider how the space can accommodate different needs. The availability of staff and risk assessments should also be considered as this will impact the suitability of some items. For example, therapy balls should always be supervised by an adult, and some brands include latex so they wouldn’t be suitable if the child or adult had a latex allergy.
A note on quality and children’s ages
It is important to make sure the equipment has the appropriate quality rating, for example in the UK a CE mark. Unfortunately, not everything purchased online has this level of quality. If you have children who will put toys in their mouth, it is also important to make sure they do not have small or detachable parts. If a toy is marked suitable for under three years, it is usually ok. Make sure you check the toy packaging to ensure it is not a choking hazard.
Storage of resources in the sensory room
It is important to consider is how will you store the items. It can be helpful to have designated boxes for small items so that they are contained. To make sure the space is not overloading, you may also want to have storage that allows you to reduce the options in the room. For example, a small storage cupboard within the room. In addition, it can be helpful to have a box for items that need to be cleaned.
What resources do you already have?
It might be that you already have resources in school which you can use in the sensory room. These might be scattered in different places, rather than organised into one space. You can also test these items to see which ones are successful before purchasing more.
What additional resources do you need for your sensory space?
Hopefully by now, you have realised these need to match the needs and goals of your children. If you can identify the senses you want to support, this will help you narrow down the types of sensory equipment you need. When the goal is regulation, you can also consider non-sensory strategies like colouring in or reading.