By Kerri Bartlett, Assistant Editor
Children at Hunter’s Bend Elementary School have been slinking through the “Tickle Me Tunnel,” sliding through the “Squeezer” and reposing in the dimly lit quiet tent as part of a new “sensory room” created by Girl Scout Brooke Harden, a junior at Franklin High School.
“The room has really positively impacted our school climate,” said Francine Pivacco-Nuñez, Student Support Services teacher, who works with children with special needs.
As part of a project that landed her the highest achievement in Girl Scouting, the Girl Scout Gold Award, Harden constructed the room to appeal to children’s sensory needs, which many times means seeking much needed quiet time from overstimulation due to the busy school day or using a constructive outlet to expend pent-up energy.
While such rooms typically seem to apply to students who receive special education services, the benefits of the room apply to the entire student population.
"For a lot of kids, it's like a reset button." Assistant Principal Reagan Burrage said.
Back in September 2012, Brooke began researching and brainstorming ideas with Pivacco-Nuñez about possible sensory mechanisms to accommodate students at Hunter’s Bend.
She even visited sensory rooms at Pearre Creek Elementary in WCS and Harris Hillman School in Nashville to gain ideas. She also studied recent literature for ideas on sensory items.
Harden’s inspiration for helping those with special needs arose from working with the developmentally disabled ranging in age from eight to 80 at a weeklong Catholic Heart Work Camp last summer.
“The funny thing is how naturally they overcome their challenges and are the happiest people that you will ever meet,” she said. “It’s impressive.”
After working with the special needs group, Harden decided that she could incorporate her experience into a project for the Girl Scouts, which ultimately landed her the Girl Scout Gold Award. To receive the prestigious award, a girl scout must contribute about 80 service hours to a cause that benefits the community in a lasting way.
Once a student at Hunter’s Bend Elementary, Harden felt as if she was giving back to the school community of which she used to be a part.
“I wanted to do something to positively impact the community for years to come,” said Harden. “I hope that the children will have the room to use forever if they need it.”
Harden used her extra time to plan the room, assemble the materials and raised about $900 through community donations and yard sales to fund the room.
Sensory materials that Harden assembled include a quiet tent with soft white hanging lights, a circular Tickle Me Tunnel with ribbons hanging down that lightly brush the skin as children crawl though, and a Squeezer that provides sensory pressure as children slide through rolling pins like dough.
“Not every student likes the same things in the room. They find their favorite activities and go to the same thing every time, “ said Pivacco-Nuñez. “It has made such an impact on our school environment because we have a whole room available any time. It benefits all students, general education and special education.”
"It's beneficial to all students on many different levels," Burrage added.
Burrage explained that when a child is over stimulated by his or her environment, energy can sometimes become difficult to channel in an appropriate way.
The sensory room, or sensory breaks, can help those children sort sensory input appropriately and “level it back out.” Sensory activities can also help provide focus when needed and even manage feelings such as nervousness or complete shut down caused by over-stimulation due to difficulty sorting sensory information in an appropriate way.
Breaks such as these are very common now even in general education classrooms Burrage explained.
“Large motor movement activates the brain and helps to retain information,” she said.
Even basic activities can help the brain to refocus.
"For example, children are asked to get their book, skip to their seat and high five their partner," Burrage said. "There are zero stand-and-deliver teachers anymore. The days where we expect children to sit and listen for hours on end are over. Research says that movement stimulates the brain, and we see it working.”
“Sensory items such as Velcro on desks in general education classrooms helps students to move their hands by brushing a rough surface, which could help them to concentrate. Wiggle seats with moveable surfaces can be used for those students who tend to move around a lot,” the assistant principal said.
Harden will be honored with the Girl Scout Gold Award at an awards ceremony at David Lipscomb University. She has also applied for a scholarship with the Girls Scouts, and plans to attend University of Chattanooga, University of Alabama or University of Kentucky.
The sensory room was unveiled at an open house in early February for children to explore and play.
“It’s all worth it to see the kids’ smiling, having fun and enjoying the equipment,” Harden said.
Posted on: 3/7/2013