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Channeling Energy at ASB’s Sensory Learning Hub
Setting up elementary students for successful learning at the American School of Bombay By Arun Subbian 14-Feb-19
The Sensory Learning Hub, situated in the heart of the American School of Bombay’s elementary school, is custom-designed and built to serve all students on the campus. This facility has three distinct zones: Therapy, Calming, and EveryBODY. In the therapy space, children receive sensory support by way of occupational therapy. The calming space is a place for children who can benefit from taking some time to reset. The third space is for all children. The Sensory Learning Hub was created to provide a unique and flexible resource where entire classes and small groups can take sensory breaks and use the calming zone. For those students with specific sensory needs, trained specialists conduct occupational therapy sessions throughout the school day, enabling this aspect of ASB’s support program to have the highest possible impact on learning. At ASB, as in many international schools around the world, children are initially assessed based on input from parents, teachers, and occupational therapists, after which a meeting is held to work out the best possible sensory integration plan for the child. ASB’s sensory learning spaces help all types of children to recognize, realize, and fulfill their sensory integration needs. This, in turn, promotes better learning. Some students require a good deal of stimulation to get their body and mind in harmony before entering the classroom. Other children are a bit reluctant to begin their day with such stimulating activities. While first type would be perfectly at home with loud noises, fast movements, and other such stimuli, the other would be somewhat overwhelmed. Learning is impacted by students’ responses to their environment. The Sensory Learning Hub helps ASB set students up for success by focusing on their sensory needs at the beginning of the school day or at any point throughout the day, as needed. It has been shown that when students’ sensory needs are met, they are better able to perform in areas of cognition. As Chaula Badiani, Occupational Therapist at ASB explains it, “Dr. Jean Ayers, in 1972, came up with the term sensory processing and sensory integration and worked on understanding how they impact the student’s functioning in the school system. There was found to be a huge connection between the human body’s vestibular system and the understanding of the higher-order language, understanding of sequencing, and math skills. Sensory integration also helps students pay attention to the right things, while filtering out others that don’t need attention. Sensory learning is about all the senses and proper integration of all the senses to set up a student for success. For successful mental development, children need to have their sensory needs met first.” Some children struggle to meet and integrate all their sensory needs, while others expend a lot of energy managing their bodies so as to cope with the rigors of the day. Given that energy is not limitless, the remainder is all that children have left for learning in a day. The Sensory Learning Hub helps children learn to better manage their energy so that they will have more to devote to the learning process. For a couple of decades now, sensory learning spaces have been an integral part of the learning process in countries such as the U.S., U.K., Australia, and elsewhere. The design and material of the Sensory Learning Hub at the American School of Bombay come from international purveyors, while some of the soft equipment was made locally to match global standards. Almost all of the designs and components of the sensory learning hub are removable, exchangeable, and can be easily reconfigured to suit varying sensory needs of the children. The components can also be taken down, rearranged quickly, and expanded upon to fill in a larger layout. Less than a year into the sensory needs integration program, there are already several positive results emerging that point to an increased learning ability among students. Observed and inferred data is being collected for an end-of-term review. Based on this data, ASB plans to roll out phase two of the project, which involves installing more equipment so that students can make choices about how best to meet their own needs. From the initial planning stages, ASB consulted occupational therapists and sensory learning experts from Mumbai and around the world. Drawing upon their collective expertise and his own hands-on experience, John Smithies, Principal of ASB’s elementary school, led the design effort and oversaw construction of the sensory learning hub. John says, “While there are quite a few schools around the world that have sensory learning hubs, there aren’t many that devote such a large space to imparting sensory learning to all children, not just the ones with special needs. Our sensory learning hub is an enjoyable space for all our children who benefit from using it, and this is the real differentiator while comparing. Being able to correctly identify and fully meet the sensory needs of the children means setting them up for a great and successful learning experience.” Research has demonstrated the links between exposure to proprioceptive, visual, and vestibular input and the ability to more readily engage in learning. Multi-sensory environments have been used to support children with learning needs for many years and have been shown to create positive changes in the areas of focus, attention, and communication, to support growth in reading and conceptual understanding, and to positively impact behavior. Extending these opportunities to all learners provides the opportunity for ASB’s students to explore active movement in a safe and structured manner and to re-engage in learning via sensory input. Arun Subbian is Executive Editor at the American School of Bombay and leads ASB’s communication and marketing initiatives.
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