Sensory Teaching ideas from a teacher of PMLD pupils
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Communication can be a massive barrier to sensory learners, and a big part of what we do is finding a method of communication that can help support the individual child. We want the sensory learner to understand what is going on around them, and the ultimate aspiration is to offer them a means to tell us how they are feeling and what they want. This is no easy feat.
Here are some communication strategies that might be helpful in your sensory classrooms. Pick one (or two) for certain pupils and link the strategy to their annual targets. This way you know you will practice the strategy every day and you can easily monitor, assess and show progress within the target.
This is a form of on-body signing for your P1/2 pupils. Your school will require training as it is something everyone needs to do and use with each sensory learner. You only pick a few signs, for example in my classroom we tend to use; hello, move, hoist, wipe your face, drink/ food (if applicable). It’s a lovely way to consistently cue your learner into what is happening next. Over time might your learner show some slight anticipation to the cue.
Objects of reference (OOR)- http://www.communicationmatters.org.uk/page/using-objects-of-reference
These objects, once decided upon by your whole school team, will be used with every child P1-3, to cue them into what is happening next, or to show them where they are going. As a team, think of what is important to your pupils, and ensure that every class have the exact OOR available to pupils using them. It is not effective practice to give them a stand in object if it is just going to confuse the child, so whole school consistency, is as always optimum. We tend to use OOR to help pupils understand where they are going from the classroom, so PE (quoit), swimming (arm band), home (seat belt). The pupils will be introduced to the object in the classroom, and be encouraged to hold it to the venue, where the adult will reintroduce it, linking it to the venue.
Switches/ High tech AAC- http://www.communicationmatters.org.uk/page/what-is-aac
I have discussed switches before in my blogs (see ICT, Cognition blogs), as they are so versatile. We use the big mack switches to record simple phrases onto; e.g. ‘more please’, ‘hello’, or song words. We will encourage pupils to use the switch by pressing it to request more of what they like, or to finish a song. What you do with the switch will depend on what you want the child to learn. Switches are great for consolidating cause and effect. You press a switch, and you get something back. You can challenge pupils with double big mack switches, or “2 talkers”. Add photographs to two switches and ask pupils to press the switch which shows what they like. Switches can also be placed by elbows, feet and heads, so they can be accessible to children with limited hand/ arm movements.
Intensive Interaction- http://www.intensiveinteraction.co.uk/about/
Follow the link to find out more. Intensive Interaction is a beautiful activity completed in a 1:1 context. It allows you time to work on eye contact, responses, turn taking and really can bring out the best of your P1/2 level pupils. Your school should have training to ensure best practice.
Again, follow the link to have it explained much better then what I could hehe! PECS is something to offer the more able sensory learner, so a P3 pupil who may be able to exchange a photograph for the actual object. Again, schools may require a key person to be trained in PECS to offer correct guidance.
Makaton- Surely you have all heard of the magic of Mr. Tumble 😉 Makaton reinforces language rather than replaces it. Makaton is useful to work alongside symbols to develop understanding of language. It can be a successful method of communication for your more able pupils. As for all these methods, courses are available so your whole school can be consistent in the usage of signing.
As ever, please share effective communication strategies that you may use with your sensory learners and enjoy J
I am in awe of technology at the moment as we can do so much (as long as we know how haha!), but at times simplicity is the key. I often wonder if sometimes we can be too technological and too focused on the WOW factor. We have to remember that sensory pupils are learning how to be reactive on their environment and need suitable opportunities to have an impact on the world around them. Sensory pupils may also prefer to take in one colour/ visual/ sound effect at a time, so they can learn to understand what has happened. Put the needs and interests of your pupils first and create individualised technology sessions that really cater for the individual.
So here are some simple ways to bring ICT into every sensory lesson you deliver, that require very little technical skills as I’m stuck in the 90’s 😉
The Interactive whiteboard (IWB)- I tend to use ours to share videos from you tube that relate to our topic, e.g. this term we are following STOMP (the use of household items to create rhythms) and in this context, I would use it for a whole class session, because, let’s face it, sometimes a group music session is FUN!
The interactive whiteboard- We can tilt ours/ change the height of it, and this really makes it a useful teacher tool as any child can then access it at their level. Once you find the perfect angle, pupils working at a P1/2 will enjoy tracking activities. I use this program a lot-http://www.northerngrid.org/senswitcher/
. You can change the colour and the images. You can change the setting from experience to cause and effect, so pupils can press the screen to make the shapes move. It’s a really useful resource, as a teacher led activity, or as continuous provision.
The Interactive whiteboard- 2 Simple software- Have you seen this software http://www.2simple.com/
? We use 2 Paint to encourage pupils to make marks on the whiteboard. This reinforces cause and effect, and will tick off any mark making objectives for your pupils. While we are on 2 simple software, check out the music programs as they can bring ICT into your creativity/ music sessions.
Floating switches- thanks to the invention of wireless switches (http://www.inclusive.co.uk/helpkidzlearn-easyswitch-p6315
and adapted plug in switches( http://www.inclusive.co.uk/inclusive-kidtrac-p2408
) you can make your IWB accessible to those pupils with limited arm movements. They press the floating switch in a position that is accessible to them, and see the effects on screen. The wireless switches are amazing as because you don’t have to worry about stretching the wire too far, you can place the switch by their head/ food/ elbow, wherever you know the child can be most independent.
The Powerlink http://www.inclusive.co.uk/powerlink-4-uk-p2575
– I just love this!! It’s so simple, yet makes sure every lesson can be related to ICT/ communication (cause and effect). You can plug almost any electrical item into it, add your pupil’s preferred switch and the pupil can turn on the electrical item, finding out about the world and learning about their effects on the environment. The settings can be changed from either a direct on/ off control, to a timed on/ off or a latched setting. I quite often use the fan/ lights (in the dark den/ sensory room)/ massager/ foot spa, as these have a strong effect. I like to see if my P2 pupils can press the switch with greater independence and begin to show anticipation of what is happening.
The eye gaze http://www.inclusive.co.uk/articles/eye-gaze-say-it-with-your-eyes-a490
– this totally blew my mind when I was first introduced to it 4 years ago. The pupils can control the screen with their eyes!!! The Speech and Language therapy team linked to your school should recommend this for specific pupils. The programmes that we use in class develop pupils understanding of cause and effect, control, anticipation and encourage independence with those how have limited movements. This therefore links to both communication and cognition targets in your classroom.
The ipad- Has so many options. The two main features I use it for are the apps and the camera. Get your ICT co-ordinator on task in finding lovely cause and effect apps. We like the piano/ xylophone, as the pupils can move their fingers across the screen to make sounds. It is handy if you need to work with another pupil in your group. Ipads are so accessible as you can hold them in the preferred position for your pupil to watch visual movements/ listen to sounds. You can move the ipad, to see if they will track and follow light or sound. They are also small enough to take into the dark den with you! As we like to be on trend in class, who doesn’t enjoy a selfie, or watch themselves back on video to celebrate recorded successes!
As ever, enjoy and please share your easy ICT tips J
As a teacher of pupils with very severe and complex physical needs, PE can often be quite a tricky subject, mostly because we don’t have 1:1 support for the pupils.
Here are some tips and ideas to make a PMLD PE lesson on the way to outstanding….
Lots of space, so every child can come out and stretch.
Interesting props- Some scarves, tactile balls, light toys, A-frames/ floor gyms to encourage stimulation whilst waiting their turn, or to encourage reaching and grasping targets (link to cognition targets for cross curricular evidence).
A routine- use the same music for a block of lessons, and work on similar movements, for the pupils to repeat over a few sessions. These can be built on if necessary and appropriate to their progress.
Use the pupils’ physiotherapy targets as a focus for part or all of the lessons, use the time and space to collect evidence, of which you can build on each week.
Encourage pupils to explore different pieces of equipment, as it could be fascinating for them. Adapt your co-active exploration of the object depending on the level of your child; are they encountering/ experiencing/ reacting/ responding/ causing an action?
Engage in body awareness songs and massage.
If you work in a school with a Post-16 dept., could you ask for some sensible students to support your lesson? This could develop their work experience and PSE skills, as well as giving you an extra pair of hands!
It’s not just about football and athletics on the PE curriculum, have you thought of trying…..
The sense of smell is wonderful and is often heightened with an impairment of another; sight, hearing. Smelling is a lovely and gentle activity that we can all enjoy and benefit from in our sensory classrooms. Remember to allow your learners time to inhale and respond, so make sure the activity is calm, quiet and at a slow, slow pace. You may see some wonderful communication of pupils turning their heads, or even parting their lips for more!
And here are some ideas to make smelling even more interesting…..
Create some scent tubs (you can get tiny snack tubs from supermarkets) and have them available within your continuous provision.
Have a massage box on hand with all your unwanted Christmas smellies. Allow pupils to smell each one, and share a response, or even a preference. Pupils can then engage in a hand massage of foot spa with their favourite toiletry.
Create a sensory story that focuses on smells only, for example a fair, or bonfire night. 5 pages would be lovely, with different smells telling a story. If they were familiar to a pupil, or a recent event, they may share great responses. Repeat it daily for a given period and see if pupils begin to have preferences or show anticipation.
Alternatively, just add in a few smells to a story that you are already exploring.
Add scents to play dough for example, vanilla, gingerbread, mint. As they knead, the smell will develop and make the activity extra interesting! Link the smell to your topic.
Add scents to water play.
Add scents to paint or glue.
Add herbs and spices to a tuff spot/ tray full of sand or rice.
Create scent squares that might line your walls, so when pupils are lying down for a stretch, they can be stimulated by their environment. It may encourage pupils to move and turn slightly.
Create a scent book, where each page has a different spice or fragrance on it. Turn the pages together.
So in a nut shell, smells can be added to any activity, adding a multi-sensory twist to your teaching. I find smells are great for lesson observations as it shows that you are really thinking creatively for those pupils who have a visual impairment, or those that need the extra stimulus to make responses. It can provide you with that little bit extra to talk about with your pupils during activities, whilst still keeping them quite straight forward.
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.
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).
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?
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?
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!
Independence…. 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!
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!
My school plans half termly, using a theme to bring all the subject areas together. I always find a really good, exciting book or poem and break it down into really small steps, which can be linked to all curriculum areas.
At home, I have a 2-year-old son, so we do enjoy a few Cbeebies programmes. The other day, we watched a sound poem recited by ‘Magic Hands’ and it was wonderful, and got me thinking about how wonderful this could be at the centre of a topic. So, I had a google and found a similar sound poem (The Sound Collector by Roger McGough), and here are some examples from verses 1 &2 of how I would use this for a whole term, bringing in a wide range of cross curricular links. (I’m using loose curriculum areas as each school is different, and the topic could well be anything you like, as you could change some of the words to fit into a theme 😉 ) Hopefully I exemplify how to expand on certain words and phrases in order to get creative and exciting with your planning ideas!
Please message me if you ever need ideas on your sensory themes as this is my favourite bit!
Literacy/ communication and language-
Make each verse into a sensory poem by finding lovely props for each line, this can make a nice whole class starter activity, or be lengthened into a small group activity.
Develop communication strategies
Develop mark making throughout using various media as stated in poem- crumbs, bubbles, cereal etc.
Develop tracking- left to right and up and down.
I find Literacy can fit onto lots of the activities below….
Each week use number rhymes, counting, shape/ colour activities running alongside the following
Verse 1- put items in and out of bags/ develop object permanence/ sort items into bags
V1- explore telling the time/ explore daily routine/ explore night and day
V2- make toast/ cut it into quarters etc/ hand out plates and toast to each child
V2- fill a tuff spot with cereals, glitter, sand and dig!! Explore, fill, empty, pour.
V2- make cornflake cakes exploring measure. Add cornflakes to cornflour to make interesting gloop.
Verse 1- Explore strangers/ family members/ people around school who help us
V1- can we practice and refine dressing skills/ look in mirror use props to make ourselves look different
V2- can we share our cornflake cakes with friends from other classes?
V2- A scraping noise can sound horrible! What sounds do we like/ dislike? Can we share our likes with a peer?
Verse 1- what can we carry/ grasp/ lift/ pass
V1- fine motor skills- feel and explore bread crumbs, add glitter and sand to make it extra sensory/ explore on a light box.
V1- turn locks, explore toys that can be pulled/ turned/ slid
V2- crunch cornflakes with our feet- what other textures can we walk over/ feel with feet/ hands?
Understanding the world-
Verse 1- Explore morning routines
V1- explore sounds as stated/ use a switch to control the kettle
V1- explore animal sounds
V2- make toast, explore and taste different toppings
V2- popping! What else can we pop? Explore different textures and of course make bubbles. Can we make gloop that might pop? What about popcorn!
V6- I would really explore the word silence, with reflection and mindfulness in mind.
I have had the pleasure of working with a lot of very different pupils over the years, each with various learning difficulties and multi-sensory impairments. I have always found teaching a child with a visual impairment and a severe learning difficulty really, really challenging. Even with the support of MSI teachers, and teachers of the visually impaired, I still struggle with new ideas, but here are a few pointers and activities that may help you, if new to the visually impaired.
Communication– get your school up to date on TASSELS. This is an on-body signing method that can really support your P1- P3 pupils. Just concentrate on a few signs per child, that will cue them into the most important sessions of the day, e.g. eat, drink, hello, movement.
Communication– Objects of Reference- these are object cues that you will use to cue your child into every activity. The objects should be exactly the same in every class across the school for good continuity. Some examples that we have used are; a spoon for dinner time (if the child is fed orally), a cup for drink time, some fabric for home time (to represent the coat). Your school can pick out the most important things on the timetable, and decide on your own cues, personal to your school.
Routine– try to keep things quite samey, so the child can become familiar with your class and become more independent in their actions. Keep your classroom lay out uncluttered and unmoved as then the more mobile child can explore and find things with greater independence (and less accidents).
Time– give the child plenty of time to respond to instructions and exploratory activities. Ensure the pupils can explore their
environment wherever possible to find out where they are and become familiar with it.
Positioning– I always get picked up on this in observations; position your child with VI in a way that the light is coming behind them, not in front of them, or try to work in a more darkened area if possible.
Texture– find really interesting sensory objects to explore relating to your theme (see my blog on renew, reuse, recycle!) I recently saw a class team develop a sensory wall, high contrasting items, reflective items, textured items, noisy items. Of course the pupils were encouraged to make items for the wall, through use of exploration and choice.
Texture– create a sensory book, where each page of a story has a tactile item on it to explore. This will also encourage page turning, listening and sharing.
Sound– when one sense is impaired, the others are more sensitive, so a lot of children with visual impairments will enjoy music and sound exploration. Use sound or music cues as part of your daily routine and enjoy familiar sounds and rhymes together.
Sound– create a sound story, where each page has a focus of a sound rather than a texture
Sight– most VI pupils do have some vision to work with, so following guidance from your MSI advisor, work in a dark tent exploring interesting lights/ shiny/ reflective items.
Smell– create ‘smelly’ boxes relating to your topics!
I will add more as I experience more good practice from my fellow sensory teachers 😉