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Designing calming or stimulating sensory learning spaces

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Some children and students can benefit from a sensory learning space that is suited to their learning styles and sensory needs.

How it can help

A sensory learning space is designed to calm or stimulate students. Everyone is different, so a space can either reduce sensory overload or stimulate the senses. This can help more children and students, not just those with specific sensory needs. Sensory tools and spaces should not be set up for the sensory needs of one student to the detriment of another.

Sensory learning spaces help students to fully participate and engage in learning experiences.

What it is

The room or area is usually a purpose-built space that is used to avoid or recover from sensory overload. It can also be set up to provide more tactile, auditory or visual stimulation.

The sensory needs of children can change depending on the time of day and situation. Sensory tools don’t have to be expensive.

Design features

These are design features identified by parents, staff and architects to help with sensory needs.

Noise reduction

Sensory learning spaces can provide quiet spaces indoors and outdoors away from busy areas.

You can also reduce noise by using:

  • acoustic absorption materials in the walls and ceiling
  • pin-up boards for displays in classrooms for extra soundproofing
  • music to signal change in routine instead of bells and sirens
  • paper hand towels instead of hand dryers.

Be aware of other possible sources of noise such as fridges, fans, air-conditioners and fluoro lights.

Sensory gear

You can provide sensory gear, including:

  • a mirror ball
  • swings and  hammocks
  • bubble tube
  • ball pool (where children can control colours and experiences)
  • climbing equipment
  • fidget spinners
  • playdough.

Managing technology

The sensory space can be somewhere students can use digital technologies like tablets.

There should also be a way for staff to lock away distracting things, when needed, including:

  • computers
  • water isolation buttons for sensor taps
  • outdoor water features.

Pattern and light

There should be:

  • less use of pattern and colour unless it is has a specific purpose, such as colours used for visual cues to identify areas and help with wayfinding
  • fresh air and natural light from glass, skylights, windows and blinds that can be opened or closed as needed.

Asset Standards and Environmental Management

This information was provided by the Ministerial Advisory Committee: Children and Students with Disability which ceased in 2019.

For advice on building standards contact:

Phone: 8226 3497
Email: education.standards@sa.gov.au

For advice on inclusive legislation and policies contact:

Inclusive Teaching and Learning

Phone: 8226 0521
Email: education.DPP@sa.gov.au