How to Create Sensory-Friendly Classrooms – The TPT Blog

Anyone who works in education knows: every student learns differently. It’s why educators take special care at the start of every year to set up their classrooms in a way that supports the needs of all their learners. Creating sensory-friendly spaces is just one step toward building inclusive and supportive environments where all students — and particularly, those with sensory processing challenges, like autistic students or students with ADHD — can thrive.

Although it may seem small, everything about your classroom design, from the wall displays to the lighting, can make a difference in student learning. In fact, recent research from the University of Salford in England found that an effective classroom environment and layout can boost student achievement by nearly 16%. 

If you’re thinking about how to set up — or refresh — your classroom space to be more sensory-friendly, this post will highlight some strategies to keep in mind.

5 Strategies for Creating a Sensory-Friendly Classroom

While you might not have the ability to do or implement everything on this list, making even a few adjustments can do a world of good for your students’ ability to focus and learn. With that in mind, here are some tips to help create a sensory-friendly classroom.

1. Build a space that’s free of visual overwhelm

Maintaining focus is something that all students may struggle with at one point or another — but for autistic students or students with ADHD, it can be particularly challenging. According to a 2021 study, colorful, richly decorated environments might be perceived as a cacophony of visual noise for students who have sensory issues. So, when it comes to creating a sensory-friendly environment, less is often more! 

To cut down on visual noise, consider choosing either muted or neutral colors when decorating your classroom. For wall displays, make sure there’s a balance of white space and visually engaging elements — and make sure what you do hang up on your walls has a purpose. For example, you can use the front walls of your classroom to display daily materials, like calendars, learning objectives, or visual schedules. You can also align any decor with the content you’re currently teaching. That way, if students get distracted by what’s on the walls they’re still focusing on relevant information.

2. Organize your classroom clutter

In general, organizational tools are a teacher’s best friend, but even more so for a sensory-friendly classroom. Good classroom organization can not only help students feel comfortable and in control of their environments, but also help you manage your time efficiently and effectively. 

Make use of labeled trays and tubs, designated storage areas, and other classroom organization tools to declutter your space and ensure that everything has a place. Keep in mind: it doesn’t need it to look social media perfect to be clutter-free. You just need to choose the tools that work for you. Here are a couple of resources to get you started in your search.

Boho Rainbow Classroom Decor Organization, Roller Cart, & Book Bin Labels by The SuperHERO Teacher 
Grades: Any

Clickable image of a TPT resource

Teacher Toolbox Labels Editable Boho Classroom Decor Neutral Modern by Differentiation Corner
Grades: Any

3. Incorporate practices that minimize noise

Noise is often something that can bother or overwhelm students with sensitivities. While you might not be in a position to use carpets or provide students with noise canceling headphones (which are great to do, if you can), there are other things that you can try to create a quieter classroom environment. 

Voice level displays, for instance, are a great classroom management tool that can help students understand the voice level needed for each activity. You can also encourage non-verbal communication in the classroom by employing hand signals as a way to ask for things, like a pencil or bathroom break. Check out one of these resources (or browse TPT) to implement one or both of these strategies in your classroom.

Clickable image of a TPT resource

Voice Levels Chart | Ready to Print and Editable | Boho Neutrals by Learning in Wonderland
Grades: K-3

Clickable image of a TPT resource

Hand Signals Posters | SPOTTY PASTELS Classroom Decor | EDITABLE by Miss Jacobs Little Learners
Grades: PreK-6

4. Provide a designated quiet space for breaks

Designate a quiet area in your classroom where students can retreat if they start to feel overwhelmed for any reason. Having a space like this can help students reset when a sensory overload occurs, so they can continue with their learning. This corner can also double as a calm down (or peace) corner to help kids who are struggling to cope with strong emotions like anxiety, stress, or frustration.

5. Offer flexible seating options 

Different learners may need something different sometimes, and flexible seating provides students with the option to choose what works for them. Maybe it’s standing at a table. Or perhaps, it’s sitting in a bean bag chair in a quieter corner of the room. Either way, the idea behind flexible seating is that students know what helps them learn best. Of course, this option may not be for every classroom — or every budget — but if you do decide to incorporate it, be sure to set rules and norms with your students.

When creating sensory-friendly classrooms, work with the resources and options you already have. Again, you don’t need to make massive changes, as a little can go a long way. But most of all, remember that your efforts now will help ensure that every one of your students has what they need to succeed in their learning journey.

Discover more ideas for setting up and decorating your classroom on TPT

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