The area is outfitted with soft lights and equipment aimed at providing students with individualized sensory experiences that enhance their ability to self-regulate.
“We use it for two purposes,” says Special Education teacher Madeline Rustvang. “For students who have sensory needs and can become overstimulated, they have a lot of energy that they just need to get out, and this is a perfect space for that.
“The second is for students who may be frustrated and need help calming down and regulating. They can come in here and decompress, have some supervised time alone, sit on the swing, relax, and when they’re ready they can rejoin their groups.”
According to research from Penn State University and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Social-Emotional Learning increases children’s prosocial behavior such as sharing, empathy, and kindness, as well as increasing academic achievement through a positive attitude toward education.
Enhanced Social-Emotional Support
“Educators are facing the reality that students have greater social and emotional needs than in the past,” says La Mesa Dale Principal, Tammie Babbitt. “This starts by creating environments of belonging and connection where students and teachers alike can engage and thrive; these environments remove barriers to education by meeting the needs of the whole child.”
Says Ms. Rustvang, “when I have students that are upset about something or are having trouble regulating their emotions, it’s nice that they can independently get back to a state of calm on their own.”
“I think during COVID especially, kids really missed out on those social interactions that you get through in-person learning,” says Principal Babbitt. “So we’re seeing the need for spaces like this more and more.”
The space currently has eight stations from which children can choose. Each station has instructions and a timer to guide the student through the activity. Children pick and choose the activity that best meets their needs, providing them with ownership of their choices and outcomes. The school is planning on adding additional stations as the space grows.
In addition to the sensory space, many teachers offer a smaller-scale calming corner in their individual classrooms where students can take a moment before reengaging.
“Encouraging students to gain self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, decision-making, and relationship-building skills is a task guided by both the classroom teacher and our wonderful full-time social worker Bethany Young,” says Principal Babbitt.
“We are proud to offer our students a safe and supportive environment that incorporates a broader view of the skills all students must develop for long-term success in life.”
By building skills and capacity in social-emotional areas as well as academics, schools engage students in what is called a whole-child approach to education.
“A whole child approach is critical to equitably preparing each student to reach their full potential,” says Principal Babbitt. “At La Mesa Dale Elementary we teach academics, and we also strive to teach our students to be better human beings who are able to navigate the world long after they leave our halls.”