5 Tips for Designing Accommodating Learning Spaces for Students with Sensory Needs

5 Tips for Designing Accommodating Learning Spaces for Students with Sensory Needs

As the number of students with special needs, students with sensory sensitivities, and students with other support needs increases nationwide, educators are finding ways to design accommodating classrooms that support positive student behavior and academic performance.

Today’s students are increasingly being bombarded with sensory inputs at school, from their own personal devices to interactions among their peers, to the lighting, temperature, and sounds in their learning environment. Too many sensory inputs can lead to over-stimulation, which negatively affects focus, engagement, academic performance, and wellbeing.

With this in mind, it’s important that educators create spaces that are both mindful of the impacts of all these sensory experiences and address the overwhelm that can occur when students experience too much sensory input.Sensory Needs

Here are five considerations to make when designing learning spaces with students’ sensory needs in mind:

Comfort is Key

A comfortable learning environment results in significant benefits to students’ emotional and academic wellbeing. Students’ comfort is one of the main influences on student behavior and wellbeing, and includes not only the comfortability of the furniture in a learning space, but also the comfort that comes from the aesthetic and visual elements of the space. There are many factors involved in comfort, including ergonomics, materials, textures, colors, ease of use, and even the sounds that your furnishings make when students use them.

MiEN offers a wide variety of different seating and desk options that come in a plethora of different materials, patterns, colors, and textures. Our furnishings can accommodate students of all different age groups with varying sensory needs, disabilities, and movement requirements. Feeling uncomfortable can really pull students away from their focus and engagement in the classroom, so it’s important to design spaces that promote student comfort.

Minimize Distractions & Clutter

Distractions, including sounds, lights, temperature changes, and clutter, can quickly cause sensory overwhelm in students. Finding ways to mitigate these sensory distractions can improve students’ experiences in a learning space. Using marker boards as room dividers and using closed storage solutions that hide excess supplies can both be a great way to minimize visual distractions for students. Allowing students to use headphones, take small breaks in a quiet area or the hallway, or move away from a drafty spot can also help to manage distractions and decrease the likelihood of sensory overwhelm.

Colors Affect Mood and Behavior

Being exposed to certain colors influences behaviors, mood, and perceptions, making a learning space’s color palette a critical tool for managing students’ sensory experiences. Colors like red and orange are very stimulating and energetic, leading to feelings of alertness and excitement. For many students, these colors promote engagement, collaboration, and creativity in the classroom, but for students with sensory sensitivities, these bright and energetic colors can be over-stimulating.

To create a sensory-friendly space, consider using colors that elicit feelings of balance, harmony, and peacefulness––such as blue and green––enabling students to feel calm and distraction-free in the learning environment. Whichever color palette you select for your learning space, avoid using only grays, whites, or browns, as this can result in an under-stimulating space that is detrimental to students with sensory sensitivities.

Offer a Space for Students to Re-Regulate

If you have the space and resources, you may consider creating a sensory space where students can re-regulate when they feel over- or under-stimulated in the classroom. Having a place to release pent-up energy, relax and meditate, or process overwhelming feelings can lead to improvements in student behavior, engagement, and academic performance.

In a sensory space, it’s important to include a variety of activities and spaces where students can unwind. Fidget toys are popular among students with a variety of sensory needs, and these can be easily stored and accessed in a sensory space using bin storage solutions. If possible, offer lighting that is dimmer than the main learning space and provide a few comfortable seating options, such as a FLEX Floor Wedge, a BAY Lounge Chair, or a stool with rocking abilities. Some amount of privacy––anything from a mobile divider to an area of the room sectioned off with a bookshelf––is also important so students feel comfortable to utilize the space as they need, without feeling watched or judged by their peers.

Variety and Flexibility

Every student has varying physical comfort needs in the classroom, but for students with sensory sensitivities, these comfort needs can make or break a student’s ability to focus and engage in the classroom. In a traditional classroom, neurodivergent students often struggle with the need to fidget, change positions, and move around throughout the day. These sensory needs can quickly become distracting, causing negative impacts on students’ academic performance.

Fortunately, flexible learning spaces are becoming more common. Flexible learning environments support a wider variety of learning needs and enable student choice when it comes to how and where they want to learn. Flexible seating options––ranging from floor cushions to ergonomic chairs to standing desks––offer students variety and the flexibility to listen to their body to choose the most effective learning space for them. Having the option to move around can help students diffuse some of the tension of sensory overload.

Creating a flexible learning space that accommodates all students’ sensory needs is key to ensuring students’ wellbeing and academic success. At MiEN, we offer ADA compliant furnishings that support a wide variety of student needs, while also effectively supporting learning and teaching.