- Sensory-friendly design — which means controlling the sights, sounds and scents in a classroom that can over- or under-stimulate students, especially those with special needs — can be built into a new classroom or used in adapting an existing one, Disability Scoop reports.
- Minnesota’s Northeast Metro Intermediate District 916, for example, has built several new schools that were designed to be sensory-friendly by incorporating shortened and curved hallways to discourage running, venting ducts in the hallway rather than in classrooms, and including breakout rooms for one-on-one sessions or as a quiet space for students. The result has been fewer behavioral issues and higher student achievement.
- However, schools can retrofit classrooms less expensively to some degree by using LED bulbs instead of fluorescent lights when natural light is not available, reducing visual clutter, reducing noise by using carpets or extra insulation, “laying” activity spaces by using furniture or panels, and expanding seating options.
Classroom design has been shown to have a significant impact on student learning and needs to be updated for contemporary learning experiences. For students with special needs, these elements may be even more important because many of these students are more sensitive to their environment and outside stimuli. Students with autism, for instance, react more positively to predictable environments designed to engage their interest.
While many schools do not have extra funding for elaborate remodels, there are several aspects of classroom design that require little additional funding. For instance, rearranging classroom furnishings to create well-defined activity spaces can help students transition from one activity to another and allows for more movement in the classroom.
Though some of the designs mentioned in the article were in the context of providing education for students with special needs, they often can be applied to any classroom, especially since more schools are implementing inclusion models. Noise reduction and muting of classroom colors, for instance, can have a calming effect on any student and provide the added benefit of making the classroom more conducive to the inclusion of special needs students. By shifting to a designer mindset, educators can create environments that can enhance the learning experience of students rather than distracting from it.