Pupils struggling in the classroom at Alfredton Primary School now have access to an innovative room where they can take a "sensory break" and control their emotions before returning to class.
The school's new sensory room, believed to be the only one of its type in Ballarat, allows pupils whose senses are overwhelmed during the school day to regulate and "reset" their emotions.
Teachers can send a child to the room if they see them struggling to control themselves, or children can tell their teacher directly or by using a discrete card on their desk.
"Some students come to school and for one reason or another are not quite ready to go in to the classroom ... and during the day some kids get sensory overload," said student wellbeing coordinator Judy O'Grady.
"With the sensory room those kids can restart their day. It hits all the senses - light, sound, smell, taste and tactile - and is about them regulating their emotions or what they feel so they can transition back in to the classroom."
Up to 20 pupils a day are using the sensory room. When pupils arrive in the room they "check in" so staff know where their emotions are at, then engage in an activity to bring their emotions down.
"If they're in the red zone they might need to do some breathing exercises first, because we believe breathing is our number one way to calm down," Ms O'Grady said.
If they're going through loss, or friendship issues, or things aren't good at home they're not learning at school if they are thinking about that.Judy O'Grady
Activities in the room include kinetic sand, puzzles, games and other stimuli such as light, colour, sounds and sensory soft play objects. Some students want to be left alone, and with the room adjoining Ms O'Grady's office she can supervise those who need their own space.
After 15 to 20 minutes they return back to the classroom.
The sensory room is mainly used by students up to grade four, and yoga is offered in the room each morning for children arriving at school. Meditation is also used and a therapy dog visits once a week.
"The room offers appropriate strategies and tools that can be used for self regulation, ensuring participation as active, calm learners within their school and community," Ms O'Grady said.
Ms O'Grady saw the need for the sensory room after seeing a pattern among the dozens of students she was counselling through difficulties, and others needing extra support within the school.
"I was seeing a lot of students one on one who were having issues just sitting in the classroom. If they're going through loss, or friendship issues, or things aren't good at home they're not learning at school if they are thinking about that.
"There's a lot of kids the same and we need to put them in an environment where we can teach them how to self regulate. I can't always be there, or their parents, but we can give them the tools so they can do it themselves."
Ms O'Grady said equipping children with skills of self regulation in early years of primary school could help prevent bigger problems in later years and at secondary school.
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She developed the room with advice from primary schools in Warrnambool and Darley who have similar rooms, and using grants from the Alfredton Lucas Lions Club, who this week donated another $2000 to the program.
"The money we got from the Lions Club will let us bring in more programs like art therapy and different things to give these kids more strategies to help them with their emotions," she said.
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