A local school division is scheduled to have sensory rooms in all their schools in the next three years. Northern Lights Public Schools is investing $800,000 to create the spaces which according to the school division can be used in a “variety of ways.”
Director of Inclusive Education and Community Supports Grace MacLellan says having these rooms in the schools will give students a calm and comforting space to help them self-regulate their emotions.
“This is a universal support designed to be used proactively to support students’ needs (like stress and anxiety) and not reactively,” MacLellan says. “Every student has a different sensory profile.”
“We are helping develop resiliency and autonomy in students by providing a space for them to go with options to help them learn to self-regulate their emotions, stress or anxiety, all without the feeling of being isolated or punished. It is a beautiful space that they want to go to.”
Sensory rooms have already been completed in North Star Elementary School in Cold Lake and Vera M. Welsh Elementary in Lac La Biche. Students can use these rooms as a quiet space to be alone and calm themselves, or as a place to practice breathing techniques and other calming strategies with the support of a classmate or adult. Pieces of equipment or items meant to engage the senses can also be used to help students regulate their emotions, such as colouring and playdough, to bubble lights and nature sounds.
Vera M. Welsh Elementary Assistant Principal Cheryl Kuraitis says the school’s sensory room allows students to learn different skills and strategies to self-regulate their emotions.
“With the addition of our new equipment, student learning and opportunities have been greatly expanded,” Kuraitis says. “Our students are excited about the new bubble tube, aurora borealis lights, fibre optic lights, gears and squeeze machine. An enjoyable highlight is the vibrating bench and marble wall that beats along to their favourite songs! We are grateful that our students have access to more opportunities to explore calming and stimulating activities.”
According to the school division room will look different depending on the age of the students and their needs. Aurora Middle School in Lac La Biche and Bonnyville Centralized High School are both scheduled to have their sensory rooms completed this year. The rest of the rooms are scheduled to be completed by 2025.