A multi-sensory room designed to help students calm and focus themselves opened at the Cos Cob School in September.
Research shows that a space dedicated to helping children regulate their emotions during school can not only soothe and de-escalate students but can increase participation and focus. The benefits of multi-sensory rooms include: increased concentration, mental and physical calmness, de-escalation, sensory improvement, improved social exchanges, and motor skill development.
Although many kids with IEPs and 504 Plans have accessed the sensory room so far, the space is available to all students.
“It’s being used by everyone in the school across all grades,” said Dr. Marisa Love, a pediatric occupational therapist for Greenwich Public Schools. “They are in here for different reasons working on different skills, including vision, core balance, and gross and fine motor skills.”
Rather than sending students to the sensory room as a punishment when they are having a meltdown after a demanding day of reading, writing and math, they come in for five-minute increments so they can reregulate themselves. “You need to calm yourself first and then you can come here to resettle,” said Love, who splits her time between the sensory room and North Mianus School. “If a child is having a behavioral challenge, we don’t want them to view the Sensory Room as a reward for negative behavior in the classroom.”
Having the ability to refocus their bodies allows students to have a better and more successful experience in their classrooms. “The goal is to go back to whatever class calmer and more organized in terms of self-regulation,” she added. “If a kid is completely dysregulated, they are not available for learning, they are not able to sit in class and listen to what the teacher is saying, and they are not getting that educational component.
The multi-sensory room was funded by a grant from the Greenwich Alliance for Education. The sensory room is one of six Reaching Out Grants provided by the Greenwich Alliance for Education in 2022 to fund new and continuing programs that support the mission of fostering educational success for all students. Through these grants, the Alliance partners with the Greenwich schools and community organizations to fund innovation, expand opportunities, inspire educators, and continue to raise achievement for all students.
The Reaching Out Grants Committee was intrigued by the concept of the Sensory Room when they reviewed the proposal submitted, said Julie Faryniarz, executive director of the Greenwich Alliance for Education. “They learned a lot when they visited Cos Cob and enthusiastically recommended funding the $15K request to the Alliance board,” she said. “It was fantastic to visit the space, try out the equipment, and “see it in action” addressing the needs of the students.”
The room is named in honor of Gene Schmidt, who came up with the idea and began the grant application process before he retired as principal of Cos Cob Elementary School in June of 2022. The Mr. Schmidt Sensory Space has 14 types of equipment, including a sensory wall panel, gel floor tiles, LED fiber optic cascade of lights, a compression canoe, and weighted blankets and stuffed animals.
For Love, working in Mr. Schmidt’s sensory room is a dream come true. “I have been in schools a long time, and this is the first time I have a sensory-based room for students to access,” she said.
There has been a lot of interest in the new room, and feedback has been positive. “Kids peek through the window wanting to come in all the time,” said Love, who recently trained all of the school’s paraprofessional assistants how to use the equipment in the sensory room, which will allow more students to use the space.
“Now that more people are trained, the room is being used every day of the week,” said Karen Vitti, the Acting Assistant Principal at Cos Cob Elementary School. “Everyone would love to have a sensory room.”
A similar sensory room opened at Western Middle Schoollast fall, which was also funded by the Greenwich Alliance for Education.
About the Greenwich Alliance for Education: The Greenwich Alliance for Education was founded in 2006 as a partner with the Greenwich Public Schools, to drive innovation, opportunity, and access in learning to empower all students to achieve academic, personal, and professional success.