New Sensory Room Helps Walden Students Get Ready to Learn

February 06, 2018

After 15 minutes of balancing, jumping and cycling in the new Sensory Room at the Walden School, elementary school students Kimari Foster and Jericho Hartley weren’t quite ready to leave. Turning to Occupational Therapist Jessica Scully, Jericho recently pleaded, “Can I jump on the crash pad one more time?” 


While the Sensory Room may seem like an indoor play space to students at Walden, located on the Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES campus in Yorktown, the room offers far more than fun and games.

Depending on how it is used, the Sensory Room can help students gear up to work more productively or calm down when they are feeling agitated or overwhelmed. The room also can be used to help students improve their balance and move their bodies with more awareness of their surroundings – important skills for navigating both educational and social settings.  


“Its intent is to provide students with personalized sensory input so that they may return to class more focused, ready to learn and interact within their environment,” Scully said.  


Walden School Principal Michael S. Sowul said the new Sensory Room fits into the school’s larger goal of helping students be the most effective learners they can be. It was designed, he said, to recognize the neurological and vestibular differences present in students with autism and ADHD and leverage them to improve academic outcomes.  Research shows, he noted, that different types of exercise can affect mood and receptiveness to instruction.  


“We want our kids to go back to the classroom from the Sensory Room in a better state to learn,” Sowul said.  The room is outfitted with a variety of equipment ranging from a familiar stationary bicycle to an unusual “steamroller” that looks like a clothes ringer. Students can crawl through its set of adjustable rollers to receive pressure on their bodies. There is a crash pad, which students can jump onto and burrow into for the feeling of a deep, enveloping hug. Students with certain neurological processing disorders can particularly benefit from that type of pressure, Scully said.


There is also a variety of exercise equipment related to balance, including different-sized pads and balls that can be used alone or arranged to form an obstacle course.  Having students use the “lily pads” and balance balls help them become more aware of how their bodies move and how to control their own movements in different settings. The room also has a Lego Wall that will serve different purposes for different students. For some, it will be a way to build hand-eye coordination and fine-motor skills; for others, it will offer a calming activity.   


Occupational and physical therapists will be able to use the room during individual and group sessions; classroom teachers also will be able to reserve it to give their students a different type of physical break than they would get during recess.  

Unlike free play, Sensory Room activities will be structured to have a therapeutic purpose, and overseen by a therapist.  


“It’s not a playground,” Scully said. Walden students, however, may never figure that out! 


Cutlines: Occupational Therapist Jessica Scully works with Walden student Jericho Hartley in the new Sensory Room.