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Special Vancouver Island schoolroom helps kids escape anxiety

Sooke school has sensory room that ‘allows the brain to reboot’
Megan Radatzke, an eduction assistant at Ecole Poirier Elementary, says the addition of a sensory room has been well received by all of the students at the school. (Courtesy - Sooke School District)

If an Ecole Poirier Elementary School student feels stressed or anxious, they don’t have to let it impact their schoolwork.

Instead, they can step into a new sensory room at the school, a place where they can go to regroup or take refuge for a while.

“Our goal was to create a space for students at Ecole Poirier seeking relaxation, stimulation, and the need to reduce anxiety, all while feeling comfortable in their surrounding environment,” said education assistant Megan Radatzke, who co-ordinated the project.

“It’s been open for a month now, and there’s been an amazing reaction from all of the students. Lots of kiddos have come by just to explore it and they all come out with big smiles, asking to come back.”

Similar rooms have been around for a while at some schools in the Sooke School District, but not to the extent of this one, said Radatzke, who works on behaviour plans in support of children with diverse learning needs.

“It’s an inviting place where students can come in, find peace and or distractions that return their minds to a state of calm so they are able to return to an overwhelming environment and move along with their day,” she said. “Some days kids may find it seemingly impossible to regulate themselves, so having a safe place to do so allows the brain to reboot.”

Radatzke said some of the other benefits associated with the sensory room are the promotion of social interactions, communication and motor skills, as well as the opportunity to stimulate senses that are lacking.

Features inside the room include a tactile board for fine motor cause and effect, concentration and rebooting, and a texture board for contact with surroundings.

“Seeking the sense of feel that is something that we all need more of,” Radatzke said.

There are lights as well for visual stimulation, mats for safe, comfortable play, and a whiteboard for free drawing, which can be a powerful communication tool.

“I’ve seen positive results with the kids it was designed for, and it was cool to see that it’s something all of our students can benefit from when they need it. While it’s great at promoting communication, the educational benefits have been a real plus,” Radatzke said.

Tara Munro, the owner and clinical director of Sea to Tree Health & Wellness, is in agreement.

“Sensory rooms are amazing, and even sensory items for when full rooms cannot be developed,” said Munro, a registered clinical counsellor who works with children, youth, individuals and couples in the Sooke area. “They are not just important for neurodiverse (individuals) but anyone, and especially those who have experienced trauma.”

“Our body’s sensory experiences are what link the brain to our behaviour,” she explained.

“The inability to regulate can lead to more negative behaviours such as acting out. In school settings, in particular, being inside most of the day, there is little ability to release and connect in nature, so the rooms or devices are a great alternative. In the sensory rooms, or in nature, people of all ages can learn to regulate their brain’s negative reactions by developing coping skills.”

Research shows that sensory rooms, sensory devices, and nature have a variety of benefits, such as calming effects, stimulation, and socialization when used with peer groups, improved focus, motor skills development and sensory development.

“I work with all ages and clients often come with complex trauma, and sensory rooms, items and nature can be useful in helping them learn to self-regulate,” added Munro.

“I use nature in this way as well, as nature is a constant that most people can access at most times of their day and life…feel the sand beneath you, smell the ocean air, feel the sun on your cheeks, hear the seagulls, smell the flowers, feel the tree bark, breathe the waves, walk in the cool water with your bare feet.”

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