Cognition in your sensory classroom.

Cognitive development is the construction of thought processes, including remembering, problem solving, and decision making. It is, therefore, an important part of any sensory classroom, and you, as the teacher can plan some great activities to promote active learning.

Here are some ideas to get you going if you are new to sensory teaching, or just in need some new ideas or even reassurance that you are doing great as you are!

  • Object permanence– a fancy way of saying things exist even when out of sight- explore a toy or an item your pupil really likes, give the pupil time to explore and engage with it. After some time, can you partially hide it? Drop it? Can the pupil find it/ do they show awareness that it has gone? You can also ‘hide’ items of interest in boxes and bags of all different shapes and sizes. What can you find? This can be made into a really fun game that can be played again and again, linking with every topic.
  • Measure- have fun exploring empty an full with your pupils- fill tubs with sand, flour, gloop, water, scented water, pebbles, soil (to name a few!) and help your pupils as much as they need to fill cups and empty them. Extend this activity by encouraging tracking and interaction.
  • Shape and space– shapes are all around us, and we don’t have to stick to a box of 2D/3D shapes, fill a box full of interesting everyday items and coactively explore their qualities, bring in a few simple shape songs too! Can we build with the shapes? Can we build a tower and anticipate it being knocked down? Can we put things inside them? Can we hide the shapes in sand or coloured water and develop our fine motor skills as we grab them? We could even attach the shapes to an a-frame and encourage reaching and grasping.
  • Counting– this can add cognition to any activity you are doing, for a thematic approach to learning! Count fingers and toes during massage, count beats on a drum in music, how many times you can dap your paintbrush in art or even count in French! Number rhymes will never go out of fashion, but make them more appealable to sensory learners by making touchy feely props (these can be kept and brought out time and time again).
  • Collecting- We love to get outside in my sensory classroom, and with the initiative of forest schools, there is no excuse. Go out to your playground or woodland area and collect natural items. Back in class count and sort your items. What have you found? Could you use a light box to focus on your findings? What shapes are they? Can other pupils build to your collection?light-box
  • Sorting– Once you have your collection, can you help pupils sort items into two simple groups? Although this can be quite a difficult task for sensory learners, if they are feeling and exploring and listening to you all the way through, they can get so much out of it.
  • Treasure boxes– can you create a stash of sensory treasure boxes to have available for those times in between sessions, or when you have to change the positioning of another pupil and need a quick, stimulating independent activity to hold pupils for a short time? These can be really useful, especially in observations when you don’t want pupils to be doing ‘nothing’. Fill low tubs with interesting items, maybe one for each sense. Have themes for your tubs- natural, jungle, household, shape etc so they can easily link into your topics. Watch your pupils explore; can they manipulate the objects? Or, enjoy explore them together and note the pupils’ responses over time.
  • Cause and effect– doing something to cause an effect on something else. This is a fundamental skill of communication, so it’s really important to make time for this. Play games such as will a cup with water or sand, and dropping it over a tower to knock it down. Is the pupil aware she has made that happen? Use switches in your class, that are linked to control electrical items, so you press the switch and the action makes the item work. Does the pupil show awareness they have the control?switches

So cognition can be fun and exciting! My final tip would be to ensure that in all activities try to make sure your resources encourage and awaken each of their senses, and as always, have fun!

A-frame/ folding activity arch.

aframe2Independence…. Time alone…. Self help…. These are all important skills to anyone, but sometimes, when a pupil has a complex physical impairment, we intervene too often, not giving the child the opportunity to explore these skills by themselves.

Which is why I am recommending ‘A-frames’. You can attach lovely sensory items to the Velcro that link to your topic and link to targets that the pupil is working on. You may add shiny items if you want tracking, or noisy items if you want responding, or tactile items of you want reaching and grasping.

You can also change the height of them, so pupils can be challenged accordingly. There are floor frames available too, so pupils can lie down whilst exploring, stretching their bodies whilst in a relaxed position- lovely! aframe 3

I think the feature that makes these ‘A-frames’ so exciting for pupils is that they can work by themselves, in peace and quiet, with no adult intervening. Just make sure you have your eye on them, ready to celebrate achievements!

TIP- I find these useful to have available when working with two pupils, and you need to offer 1:1 support, rotate the pupils with the a-frame, so you can work intensely with the other. Enjoy!

http://www.specialneedstoys.com/uk/motor/reaching/aframe