Multi-sensory classroom is ‘a revelation’ for pupils with severe learning difficulties

Posted on 3rd Dec 2015 in Kisimul

Nicola Stephens reports on an exciting development at Kisimul School

In September 2014, Kisimul Schools supported the investment of a fully integrated, immersive sensory classroom at their lower school Swinderby site in Lincolnshire. The Kisimul Group supports pupils with severe learning difficulties and challenging behaviour, generally with a diagnosis of autism. Pupils at the Swinderby School are aged between eight and sixteen and currently have access to a wide and varied curriculum supporting life skills, functional skills and promoting independence and the development of communication.

The rationale behind such an innovative development for the school was to offer our pupils a multi-sensory, interactive environment in which pupils are fully immersed in a particular theme through the medium of ICT and sensory play. The intention is that pupils are to be given the opportunity to explore a topic by having available to them a multitude of sensory play activities, sensory stories, an interactive floor, themed lighting, sounds and projections. 

Sessions are intended to be mainly pupil-led and the focus for them are interaction and engagement in either a one to one or a small group to enhance learning opportunities and communication. In addition, it was hoped that pupils would benefit from intensive interaction opportunities and from sensory stimulation based around weekly topic areas linked to the school’s overall termly topic.

The reactions to the interactive sensory classroom, and the popularity of it amongst our pupils since its install, has been incredibly positive. From giving pupils the opportunity to find themselves in the middle of a snow covered, scented, pine wood amongst the characters from ‘The Gruffalo’s Child’, to allowing them to take a journey into ‘Space’ and act out role-play adventures dressed as astronauts while zapping rockets and aliens on the interactive floor, the pupils have been enlightened and astounded by the potential available to them. 

Pupils have been involved in a lively Chinese New Year street parade. They have enjoyed an explosive Bonfire Night party, using an iPad to project large images of fireworks onto the wall. Pupils have been able to engage with images of fireworks on the interactive floor in order to hear them zooming and whizzing as they seemingly disappear beneath their touch.

Students have explored ‘Autumn’ through the use of sensory stories, adapted to include accessible, interactive ICT software. They have also celebrated ‘Australia Day’ using themed props and lighting, observing iconic Australian scenes projected onto walls whilst being able to use interactive maps of Australasia on the interactive floor, not to mention, relaxing in the company of a didgeridoo therapist.

Pupils have been encouraged to discover their environment independently to create a pupil-led session of exploration and realisation, supported by a teacher to oversee, guide and support the pupils to participate positively in the activities they choose to do. 

Our multi-sensory classroom has been pivotally important in being able to support our sensory pupils who require an immersive, practical and varied learning environment in order to thrive. The interactive floor offers opportunities to develop an understanding of cause and effect, as does the interactive iPad system, which pupils can use to change the lighting in the room at the press of a button or the roll of an interactive dice. Our pupils can relax on the vibro-acoustic bed while having their feet and hands massaged along with feeling the vibrations of their preferred music, or perhaps listening to a sensory story handling topic-related objects and sharing the experience with staff.

This development and addition to our school has offered our pupils the chance to experience different ways of communicating with others. Turn taking and sharing can be developed and promoted by using various parts of their body to scatter stars or leaves on the interactive floor or to ‘swim’ through an ocean, wiping away waves to reveal different sea creatures along the way. Seeing the pupils’ reactions to revealing an autumnal photograph of themselves, beneath a cover of leaves that they themselves can wipe away using their hands or feet has been magical.

It was a joy to witness the excitement and amazement of one of our pupils, as he, with guidance from staff, was able to use software to edit the strip lights, spotlights and bubble wall to colours of his choosing.

By offering such a range of activities and experiences to our pupils, we have witnessed a pupil shed a tear at being able to hear his own voice, projected through the use of a microphone beamed from the speakers around the room; pupils’ confidence in transitioning has progressed; a pupil, prior to visits to the multi-sensory classroom, was reluctant to accept sharing personal space, will now share sensory stories and scent bottles while exploring the seasons. 

Still somewhat in its infancy, our multi-sensory classroom has so far been a revelation. Pupils have developed in confidence, their ability to interact and communicate with others has progressed and regardless of ability level, the pupils have flourished in this immersive, multi-sensory environment. Due to the success of this venture, Kisimul Group intends to install further multi-sensory immersive classrooms at both our Upper School site, Acacia Hall, near Market Rasen in Lincolnshire, and at our Woodstock school site in Surbiton, Surrey. It is anticipated that these limitless innovations to our school’s learning environments will continue to enhance our pupils’ learning and encourage positive interactions and experiences for new and current pupils alike.

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