Students focus better following sensory breaks

Messenger photo by Kristy Zurbrick
Third-grader Alan Moore beams as he plays in the ball pit in London Elementary’s sensory room.

(Posted Dec. 24, 2016)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

Last school year, London Elementary student Alan Moore spent a good bit of time outside of the classroom due to behavior issues. Sometimes, he even went home early from school.

This year is a different story. He stays in class all day. He does his math and reading lessons. His discipline issues have decreased dramatically.

As it turns out, what this bright-eyed, energetic third-grader needed was a break.

In late November, the school opened a sensory room in one of the former pre-kindergarten classrooms. A few times a day, Moore, who has autism, and other students with autism or other special needs, visit the room to satisfy their cravings for sensory experiences. They move around, play with textured toys, and nestle into play structures that make them feel the comfort of weight or pressure. They get a break from sitting still in their regular classrooms.

“It’s a nice outlet for them,” said Cheryl Stauffer, London City Schools director of student services. “They come to the sensory room for five- or 10-minute breaks through the day. After-wards, they can go back into the classroom and have better focus and attention.”

The room is equipped with, among other items, a ball pit, swing, rocking balance boards, weighted stuffed animals, and a fabric covered stuffed “cozy canoe” that students can wedge themselves into and feel like they are being hugged.

Stauffer credits district Superintendent Dr. Lou Kramer, school maintenance staffer Greg Payne, and generous community members for making the room a reality. After making sure the room would benefit students and be safe, Kramer committed funds to the project.

A local civic organization and business helped to make the swing in London Elementary’s sensory room a reality, saving money for other items for the room, such as rocker boards, textured toys and a “cozy canoe.”

If it weren’t for local ingenuity, Stauffer said nearly all of the funding would have gone to the frame for the swing, leaving the room fairly spare until more funds could be secured.

“To order one of these swings is expensive. Just the frame is about $2,500,” she said.

That’s where Payne and his fellow members of the London Fraternal Order of Eagles stepped in. They donated the labor to build a frame from scratch. Creamer Sheet Metal in London provided the materials at cost.

“Without their help, we wouldn’t have been able to buy all of the other items we did for the room this year,” Stauffer said. “Each year, we hope we can add some more pieces.”

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