Use of the safe space

The use of a sensory space will depend on the users’ needs, either as one to one or whole class sessions. It will respond to the aims set for individual students and the whole class or school. It is important to consider students’ needs prior to, during, and after the activity. 

Schools should ensure all adults facilitating the sensory space have the appropriate training and information to use the space safely. This includes collaborating with family systems, a multidisciplinary team (school psychologist, occupational therapist, and other relevant professionals), and local advocacy groups to guarantee the use of the space respecting the best interest of the user.

Before: Plan and Prepare

1. Observe: the students and their levels of alertness or drowsiness throughout the school day. Identify patterns to the time(s) of the day when they get overwhelmed or need a break. 

2. Schedule: visits to the sensory space at times that suit the student best.

3. Identify: if the student would benefit from a calming or a stimulating activity?

4. Establish access and exit procedures to use the sensory space. Examples include: verbal request,  break cards, self-regulation charts. See more detail below.  

5. Timing: You may need to establish time limits on how long a student can stay in the space. Students will need prompts to show them when it is time to leave the space. It is important to have more than one type of indicator for different senses. Examples include: a schedule on display (visual) and a buzzing timer (sound). We have more details below.  

6. Breaks: Include breaks that involve proprioceptive, vestibular, tactile, and calming activities. These movement breaks can support students with particular sensory needs. They might also include opportunities for self-regulation in the classroom including breathing activities. 

Accessing and using the space

Procedures around entering and exiting the sensory safe space are needed. You may use the space for time-tabled sessions, or for a time-out when things become overwhelming. When things become overwhelming, you need mechanisms to allow students to tell you that they need to use the safe space, and for staff to ask if students need to use that space. You also need mechanisms in place for the student to tell you when they are ready to exit that space. Some students will be able to tell you verbally when they need to enter or leave a space. Other pupils will not be able to verbalise, either because they cannot or because they do not feel confident in doing so. In these situations prompts, such as cards to hold up or some other signals, such as coloured balls to drop in a cup, may allow the pupil to communicate their distress without attracting too much attention from their classmates.

Image shows a card with a picture of a raised hand on it and the text ''i need to stop'.
Image shows a card with the word 'break' on it and a blue character sitting on the floor with his eyes closed and hands covering his ears.
Cards like these can be used to allow the pupil to let staff know they need a break. The colour yellow is often used to imply that things are not OK.

Cards, like those shown above can also be used by the staff to ask a pupil if they need some time out of the classroom. Once the pupil has indicated they need to use the sensory space, you can ask them what they need. Finding out their mood, or asking what they think will help them (quiet time, music, a snack) will help you provide the right support and resolve the issue faster. Again you can ask verbally but often pupils are too upset to verbalise, or even know what they want themselves. In this case, offering a choice of cards or items to choose from may help prompt them.

Image shows a range of cards of different colours, each with a face icon and word, indicating a different mood. There is a blank space in the middle for someone to choose which mood suits them best and place the card there.
Examples of mood cards – these allow the pupil to communicate how they are feeling
Image shows a wheel in 7 equal sections. Each section is a different colour going from red to orange to green to blue. Each section has a different face indicating a different mood - so red looks angry, green looks happy, blue looks sad.

You may choose a resource that allows the pupil to communicate what they need. You may have a variety of mood cards plus cards indicating different options, such as play, read, lie down, go for a walk, have a snack, or listen to music.

Image shows a table with two columns. The first column says 'I am feeling' and has an image of a blue card with a sad face on it and the word 'upset'. the second column contains a picture of a comfy armchair.
Offer the student a range of options to complete the table above.

Timing

The resource below allows you to agree with the student how long they are going spend in the space or do an activity. This ensures that both you and the student are clear on what is going to happen. You can use this for pre-agreed activities or for calming activities, if the pupil is able to engage in the conversation. Reinforce the time limit using egg timers (the pupil might set this themselves) or pointing to a clock.

Image shows a piece of paper. At the top is printed "when I come to the chill out room I will do this". Below the text are 3 squares, the first of which contains a picture of 3 cups with different coloured balls in, there is a mix of coloured balls on below the cups with the words 'colour sorting'. The next two squares are empty. Below each square is the word 'for' and an arrow pointing down, to another square and this contains a card with a time '3 minutes' printed in it.

During

  • Supervision: students must always be supervised when using the sensory space.
  • Guidance: Guide students towards either calming or alerting activities, depending on what they need, but never force a sensory activity. Students’ must choose the sensory input they need. 
  • Observe: Observe the student’s responses to all activities completed in the sensory space.

Exiting the space

You may have an agreed time that the child will have to leave the space or you may wait until that pupils is calm before they have to exit. Again, a visual representation may be useful, helping to prompt the student and informing you. The resource below allows the child to move the counter along the scale to show when they are feeling calmer.

A card shows 3 characters. One sitting on the floor, with their head in their hands crying. They are wearing a red T-shirt and shoes. An arrow points to them with the text: Feeling mad, bad or sad. The second character is also sitting on the floor with their head in their hands, they have their eyes shut but are looking calmer. They are wearing a yellow shirt and shoes. A yellow arrow points to them with the text: feeling calmer. The third character is standing and smiling. They are wearing green and the green arrow pointing to them says, feeling calmer, you're ready to go. There is also a blue counter next to the image so the pupil can move that counter to indicate how they feel.

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