Welcome to the Occupational Therapy Classroom!
Hello, and welcome to the tour of my occupational therapy classroom! I’m extremely fortunate to have a designated space [that doubles as a sensory room!] in all of my buildings. This is uncommon for related service providers! I definitely don’t take it for granted! Working as a district employee at a public school in Pennsylvania, I service four buildings. I am in two secondary and two elementary schools, and I love the variety! This tour is for one of my elementary buildings. This year, I share this space with another physical and occupational therapist. But in years past, I have shared with therapists who were contracted with our district through the intermediate unit (IU). The building that houses this therapy room has two autistic support classrooms. These students access the room in addition to students who have sensory diets set up by our therapy team. It’s a busy place!
One of the many uses of my occupational therapy classroom is as a “sensory room”! My district is very fortunate to have one of these spaces in each of our buildings! The therapy department was involved in helping to order sensory equipment. These tiems can be used not only during therapy sessions, but by trained support staff to assist and supervise students with sensory processing differences throughout their school day! The therapy team, following a sensory evaluation, often sets up “sensory diets”, or a schedule/menu of activities targeting specific sensory systems, for individual students. We have a variety equipment! Here are some of our student’s favorites:
- Sensory Tiles (affiliate link) as seen above
- Scooter Boards
- Body Sock
- Fabric Tunnel
- 3 Foot Barrel
If you don’t have the luxury of having a designated occupational therapy space with sensory equipment at your school, no worries! You don’t need to have fancy equipment to provide additional sensory input into a student’s daily routine. You can meet a variety of sensory needs within the classroom setting as well! Take a look at Taylor’s Blog on Heavy Work in Special Education for some great ideas!
Sensory Room Sign In
As I have mentioned, this space is shared by many people, so it is important that everyone is on the same page. Our physical and occupational therapy staff make sure to train all other school staff utilizing the room. We cover things like the purpose of sensory breaks, safe set up and use of the equipment, proper storage of materials, and cleaning procedures. Not surprisingly, the importance of this training increased during the pandemic. We have all the cleaning expectations on a checklist, and students/staff sign in and out each time they use the room. Staff sign off that they completed the necessary cleaning, and note if there are any materials/equipment that need to be looked at or fixed by the therapy staff. Since therapists are not always in the room when students are utilizing it, there is a walkie talkie if additional support is required.
My Occupational Therapy Table
It is important to have separated spaces in a shared room like this! When we aren’t utilizing the sensory equipment or doing gross motor-based warm ups, my students work at this horseshoe table (affiliate link). I see some of my students individually. However, this space works well for my small group sessions. I typically don’t see more than 3-4 students at a time. I prefer to have more individualized time with my students, but I do see a lot of benefits to my students learning and growing from one another. Since many of my students have fine motor goals related to handwriting and scissor skills, we typically work on these skills at our horseshoe table. Take a look at Simply Special Ed’s Writing Bundle for some great resources targeting fine motor skills!
Additionally, with my table’s location near the blackboard, it is easy for students to take turns being “the teacher” and reteaching the skills and strategies they have learned to one another. This is a very helpful cognitive-based strategy! Best practice is to have students self-evaluate their handwriting, so we do a lot of that as well! To ensure proper positioning and attention to task, I utilize a variety of different seating options with my students. I have found the most success with wobble stools (affiliate link) and Bouncy Bands (affiliate link) like those pictured above, but check out Michelle’s blog “Flexible Seating Options in Special Education” for some more options!
Since my classroom is set up as a traditional classroom, I am lucky to have cubbies/hooks as well as two closets! Lots of storage is necessary in this shared space! I try to keep my things as organized as possible so that they are easily accessible. I utilized bins in my cubbies (affiliate link) to organize my materials or to transport items for push-in sessions held in general or special education classrooms. Our physical therapist also stores most of her larger items in this area!
This year, we hung shower curtains from the ceiling to cover the cubbies to keep the materials less visible. The items stored in this area were “out of sight, out of mind” for many of the students, and we noticed improved focus! I have a variety of assessments and adapted paper that I frequently use stored in the cubbies as well. They are the perfect size for 8.5×11 pieces of paper, so I can store them there without worry about them curling or bending. I also store some of my Handwriting Without Tears® materials like the workbooks (affiliate link) and wooden pieces (affiliate link) in this area as seen below:
Last, but not least, my desk! I’d be lying if I pretended that this was how neat my desk is most of the time! But there is one thing that I wanted to share about my desk set up that I have found very beneficial. Positivity. Encouragement. Affirmation. We need all of these things! Working in the schools can be incredibly challenging, tiring and stressful. Sometimes, we need to remember why we do what we do. I’m sure every single one of you have a thank you email from a parent, a sweet homemade card from a student, or a compliment from an administrator. Save them! Print them out! Hang them up! If you need something to get you on the right track, check out this Simply Special Ed blog “10 Positive Affirmations for Special Education”. When things get challenging, look up at these notes! Always remember your “why”!
One of my schools started a school-wide initiative we called “smile cards” this year [see the green cards in the above photo]. The idea was for staff to anonymously write notes of encouragement and gratitude to other staff members. We turned them in weekly and our principal shared them in our staff newsletter. We got the original copy of the note to keep! I added mine to the bulletin board behind my desk. If you don’t have a bulletin board, keep them in your desk draw. If you don’t have your own space, keep a digital folder on your desktop to refer to on those challenging days. Just remember: Being an occupational theaprist is the greatest job in the world because you get to live your life to the fullest by helping others do the same!