First-grade students at Grand Island’s Charlotte Sidway Elementary School learn in a multi-sensory environment

A first-grade classroom at Grand Island's Charlotte Sidway Elementary has been transformed into a "multi-sensory learning space," a design which encourages a variety of learning styles – including fidgeting.

The classroom includes wobble seats, ball and cube chairs, rugs, a couch, standing desks, balance boards, and low tables which allow a child to sit on the floor or kneel while working, according to teaching assistant Kim Groff.

The learning space is a combination of two classroom styles, which allows students to move between stations in small learning group activities. Standard desks and chairs are still there in one room, but the 36 students, some of whom are special education students, can also use a second room, where students can be seen jiggling atop giant stability balls, wiggling on balance boards or sunken into bean bag chairs.

The activities give the young students the ability to choose which seating choice works for them and in addition some students may fidget with toys or weighted objects to regulate their attention. This is acceptable and understandable, according to their teachers.

The multi-sensory classroom environment was created by general education teachers Melissa Taylor and Stephanie Varner, special education teacher Kim MacDonell and Groff, with the support of Principal Denise Dunbar.

"Every child learns in a different way and it is our responsibility to help each child find out what works best," said Varner, in a release from the school. "This enables us to get to know the strengths and the weaknesses of each child."

The teachers created the classroom after doing research on their own, using grant funding and assistance from Erie 1 BOCES.

MacDonell said the classroom is very student-centered, which encourages the teachers to work as a group with students as their guide in the instructional decisions.

The plans for the sensory-based learning environment began last year as part of the district's plan to improve the quality of special education in the district. The district plan includes using a team of teachers to create an inclusive classroom that provides all the instruction each student needs, according to Elizabeth Bittar, Erie 1 BOCES special education improvement specialist.

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