Kids benefit from sensory room at WWG Elementary

Photo by Jenny Kirk Stephanie Doubler, Karley McClellan and Traci Janssen proudly pose among some of the equipment purchased — in part through grants and donations — for the new sensory room at Westbrook-Walnut Grove Elementary School in Walnut Grove.

WALNUT GROVE — A new sensory room at the Westbrook-Walnut Grove Elementary School is addressing and meeting the increasing needs of students in the district.

Traci Janssen is the speech language pathologist at WWG, while Karley McClellan serves as the early childhood special education (ECSE) and Stephanie Doubler is the first- through sixth-grade special education teacher. Roughly 45 students currently use the sensory room on a regular basis.

“We started planning by the beginning of the school year and we got everything ordered, set up and built in here before Christmas,” Janssen said. “It took a little bit of planning and a little bit of budget work, but we were able to get a lot of nice things.”

Doubler said the monkey bars and steps were made by WWG High School students in their building trades class.

“It’s kind of cool that they were involved with it, too,” Doubler said.

The sensory room is painted a rich sky-blue color courtesy of WWG Principal Paul Olson, who selected the color and painted the room as well.

“He was dedicated to this room,” Doubler said. “He was totally on board, so that was nice. I think the blue is calming, too.”

A large variety of sensory stimulating items can be found in the room. Along with a bright red crawling tunnel, there are two egg-shaped spinning chairs, stepping stones, a small balance beam, bowling pins, Hula Hoops, puffy chairs, bouncy balls, trampolines, a tricycle and numerous Sit ‘N Spins.

“The Sit ‘N Spin and the trampolines are really popular,” Doubler said.

One young student came in and immediately went over to the musical Sit ‘N Spin. With help, he was able to sit down and create some movement during his time in the sensory room.

“I’m not sure who brought it up first, but we have a lot of high needs kids here, a lot of special needs kids that we thought could really benefit from a space like this, especially in the winter time when you can’t get outside,” Janssen said. “We talked with our occupational therapist and we used our knowledge to make sure we were getting the appropriate materials.”

Janssen noted that some kids need vestibular input, while other students might need heavy lifting or something similar for their sensory needs.

“Depending on what you see here, there’s kind of a reason behind it, whether that’s getting down on your hands and knees and crawling or spinning in one of the egg chairs,” she said. “There’s also the crash pad, too. You just go and jump on it, and it gets a lot of sensory input to users.”

Along with hanging bars, a swing can also be attached to the monkey bars/jungle gym. A large whiteboard is available for students to color, create or scribble on, too. There are also multiple storage boxes that contain a variety of sensory items for students to use.

“We also have a sensory table for the touch multi-sensory piece of it,” McClellan said.

While the sensory room is primarily geared for special education students, there are others who are benefiting from it as well.

“We have a pre-K class come in here once in awhile and they do rotations,” McClellan said. “I know when it was cold outside, they did their outside time in here. They don’t technically have to have an IEP (individualized education program), but there are a lot of students who benefit who do have an IEP.”

McClellan noted that they have a student that learns as he rides the bicycle down the hallway.

“He has his name on the wall, so each time he rides past it, he says the letters in his name,” she said. “So he also does speech with it, too. There’s little pictures and he’s practicing ‘p’ sounds right now. So we get them involved that way, through multi-sensory experience.”

Doubler noted that the sensory room is also used for therapy, primarily by the school’s physical therapist.

“I have a student that works on stairs, so that’s why we have those steps in here,” Doubler said. “She works on climbing a small flight of stairs before she tackles the big ones. So therapy happens in here, too. We’re really happy with the sensory room.”

Doubler said movement is the key for a lot of the students.

“You have to get them moving to get their brain working again,” she said.

Janssen said the special education teachers collaborated with Olson and some of the general ed teachers to get ideas and so they could all be on the same page.

“Behavior-wise, some kids just need a sensory break,” she said. “Now, we’re seeing a decrease in (negative) behaviors in the classroom.”

Since the new room is getting a lot of use, scheduling is vital for everyone.

“We all have our own schedules with each student and we know who is in here,” Janssen said. “We can be in here at the same time — for some students, it works well — otherwise, we like to have a quiet environment for other students, too. We just know who is in here at that time and can plan accordingly.”

From what she’s heard, Doubler said the number of special education students has increased over the years.

“We’ve gained a teacher,” she said. “They used to handle it with two SPED teacher here, but now we have three. There are a lot of needs.”

Part of that may be because people are much better at identifying needs nowadays.

“You can identify the needs better and then find a way to work with them to increase their learning,” Janssen said. “There are a lot of great resources out there. You just have to find them.”

While the sensory room is currently located down the hall from other classrooms, it might be re-located in the future.

“We’re hoping that this area will be our public side someday,” WWG Superintendent Loy Woelber said. “As enrollment is down, we’d like to rent it out. We have our public fitness center down here with these three rooms. I’ve been talking to Southwest Health and Human Services to possibly get WIC (Women, Infants and Children) in here. We have Adult Basic Education. So eventually, the sensory room might move (closer to the main part of the school).”