Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Our Homeschool Journey: Sensory Friendly School Room

When we first began our homeschooling journey 6 years ago we didn't really have the space for a traditional "schoolroom." We would store curriculum and craft items in the basement and carry what we needed for the week upstairs in a bucket and work in the living room, where there was more light. Eventually we bought desks for the 2 older girls and laptops for each and needed space for them.  
We had a small room at our old home that, by the time we added 2 desks, 2 bookshelves, a filing cabinet, and a printer table, did not fit all of us in it. So if the girls needed me to work with them we still had to use another room. So it was still a "storage room" of sorts. My friend labeled it The Resource Room since learning happens everywhere, not just in the room with the books!

Although this worked well for many years I will say that I've always wanted a place where we could separate school from the rest of life. Where most of what we needed for our homeschool day was at our fingertips.  So when we moved into our new home this summer I was pretty jazzed to have a room designated "The Schoolroom."
I believe it was intended to be a formal dining room, however we used the 4 season porch for eating instead. This freed up this awesome space to create a schoolroom. Although our needs are met, we don't necessarily have unlimited funds to furnish a schoolroom, so it's not too spectacular. This home is also a rental so we use a lot of Command Hooks. 
So you'll see that nothing is too fancy or pricey; most items are homemade or from the thrift store. Not all of my storage boxes and furnishings match flawlessly and it's always cluttered because I have far too much "stuff" but I'd still love to share one of our favorite rooms with you.
We tried to make it sensory-friendly to make an optimal learning environment for my children with Autism. 
Oh, and the set-up/layout of the room changes now and then so the photos show some overlap. This is not necessarily a QUIET space by any means, but when the kids need to get the crazies out we send them to the OT room downstairs to be active!

This shelf is mostly items for The Littles. I've got 2 younger boys (Dean is in Kindergarten and Bruce is almost 2) and frequently have a friend's preschoolers over during the week. These toys, sorted by type, replaced my old Busy Box system (where several different items went together in 1 box). We still use busy bags for travel/on-the-go though.

I use mostly clear bins and label maker tape to organize items so they are easy to find.
Kinetic Sand, Play-Doh, and their accessories all have their own bins. The pom-poms have laminated do-a-dot photos and tongs in their bin. We use colored sand and sight word flash cards to practice spelling & writing. Several types of magnetic books, letters, shapes, and blocks live on this shelf.

Pop blocks, lacing beads, bristle blocks, peg pictures, color sorting cups and items, gears, shape-sorting toys with nesting barrels toy hammers, ABC cookies, wooden puzzles, a ball-hammer set, Fiddlestix, and a toy scale finish filling up this bookshelf.

This is the little boys' desk area, next to their bookshelf. Here's where the workbooks, coloring books, storytime props, Color Wonder, stacking pegs, unifix cubes, alphabet games, Magna-Doodles and Etch-a-Sketches live. Dry-Erase boards & books, Wiki Stix, pattern blocks & their laminated photo cards, flash cards, kids art supplies (markers, crayons, water-paint books), and calendar magnets are stored here as well.

Dean is really into maps - states, continents, capitals, flags, etc. I scored this cool talking globe at the thrift store!

 We have 2 classroom wall calendars:

The theme of the classroom is a Wise Owl so the main "date" calendar is laminated printables I bought on TPT (  We use sticky putty to tack them on the wall and change the dates each month. (I am really really bad at updating this calendar, but I'm totally on top of things with the one in our Family Command Center!)

The other is a magnetic Melissa & Doug calendar - just for Dean. He labels the weather, the date, his feelings that day, and any special events.

Recently we got rid of the other types of shelving and wardrobe to make room for this futon.  I love having a couch to sit on when I snuggle up to the boys to work with them.  I rearranged some shelving & desks so there are some photos here of the way it looks now and some in previous stages...

The boys each have a table with two stools as a desk - which are nice because they can be pushed together for a larger desk space. They are lightweight and easy to move.  We picked these up for $15 each at Ikea.

 Alphabet border from Dollar Spot at Target that I laminated and hung around the window.

My teacher cart! The items I need to have on hand, nearby.  It's my "desk." A rolling cart from Ikea.  Mostly because I thought it was pretty and really wanted it.

We may have a slight board game obsession. Okay, obsession is putting it mildly. Most are thrift store finds - and I'm a pretty good couponer - also we live with another family so when we combined games it was pretty crazy! Generally I pick them up at thrift stores - especially ones that fit whatever topic we are studying in school - and then donate them later. I'd like to say I get rid of one each time I buy a new one but I'm actually a hoarder of all things homeschool.  Inside of the closed doors (with child locks) art/school supplies in labeled drawers and boxes.

The first of the 4 bookshelves holds the Little Kid games mostly. I'm a big fan of manipulatives as well so the counting bears and pet counters have a home here. Pattern blocks and a sorting bin, mosaic tiles, and snap letters are here as well, since the older kids do sometimes use them.


We did move the table around to be along the window and create more floor space for the little ones to play.

The bulk of our curriculum (what we are using this year and a few fun extras) are in these file folders from Ikea. It's easier to find a book I'm searching for this way then to look at tons of book bindings of all different sizes.  Science kits are on the shelves above the file folders. Scales, timers, and other fun stuff of that nature are here too. 

The larger bins didn't fit well on other shelves so they hang out here.  We used our 

This rental home we have been blessed to be in has a walk-in closet in our master bedroom. So we no longer needed this Ikea wardrobe in our room. Ikea has shelving that can be added instead of hanging rods and it is very deep and can store a lot of larger items. The clear plastic drawers are just the cheap ones from Target.  They contain art supplies (felt scraps, cardstock, ribbons, stickers, duct tape) and are labeled with those same cute owl-themed labels.  All of our sensory bin items are stored here.

 No matter how organized our sensory bin and art items are, they still look "cluttered" so I like that I can hide them in this wardrobe facing the wall.


Puzzles, card games, dice games, flash cards, smaller games and traveling games are sorted into clear bins and labeled. This keeps them organized on the shelf and makes them easier to find. Most of the puzzles are in ziploc baggies to cut down on space.

Each child has a colored desk caddy.  They have their crayons, scissors, pencils, sharpener, erasers, etc. right at their finger tips.  Each child has their own large tin of Thinking Putty in there as well to fidget with.  
In addition to the markers and crayons each child has in their caddy we have "group" supplies. Each color has a labeled cup and anything in the realm of that shade is in that cup. Tons of color options, no fighting over the red marker!  Fidgets and our homemade lap buddies are stored on this shelf as well.

I've since taken this wardrobe out and opened up the room a bit by using taller bookcases.


This is very possibly the boys' favorite toy! $2 "color coaster" at the thrift store, 50 cent nesting barrels, and a toy hammer. They sort the colored shapes on the pegs or into barrels and hammer them open. Never gets old, occupies them for hours. 


I'm especially proud of the fidget collection we've built up over time.  They are stored in clear plastic boxes on the shelf but I tossed them in here for picture-taking. With the kids' special needs (such as Autism and ADHD) having items to fidget with or chew on helps them calm and/or focus. I took photos of some of their favorites. You can find items at the Dollar Store, Target One Spot, thrift stores, and online shops like and

Light up squishy "caterpillar," glow wand, stress ball, jiggle tube, chewy straw, and the balloons are homemade stress balls. We filled balloons with various sensory items such as flour, oatmeal, even dry rice.

Slinkys are great for breathing exercises (breathe in while stretching, release breath while pushing back together), we have full size and mini tins of Crazy Aaron's Thinking Putty (BEST thing ever), various chewies for oral sensory needs (each kid has their own - keep a few on hand so you always have a clean one), and this bracelet is great for Taylor's habit of picking and biting her wrists.

The spiky tactile glove is latex, fingerless, and reversible.  Not as effective at preventing her from picking as I had hoped.  Squishy stress ball star, sturdy textured light-up ball, and knotted rubber ball are great hand tools.

Various types of pin art and rubix-type cubes.

We've created our own "Find-It" games from colored rice and empty bottles but the store bought one is all I took a photo of. The car wash mitt is awesome because I can add essential oils to it and they like the feel on their face/arms - or I add weight to it, such as a bag of dried beans. We have tons of visual timers, this hourglass style one isn't used to track time but rather for Dean to watch and kind of calm down. It fascinates him.

I think the purple/blue thing is called the Tangle Jr, it can be taken apart and twisted into various shapes. The glitter wand is a nice visual calming tool and that stretchy lizard is seriously the coolest thing to fidget with!

We have tons of different types of bean bags, including several of these bunny rabbit ones. That game is Rubix brand and it is some type of electronic maze. Dean likes to sit in a quiet place and play it. Calm down bottles are a great homemade addition to our fidgets.

We store all our sensory bin items in the schoolroom - and always have a couple batches of homemade Gak/Flubber made up, This safely entertains the boys while I work with the older kids.

Julia is working on Scrabble Spelling. Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, trouble with fact recollection, and Phonemic Awareness Disorder have forced us to get creative when teaching spelling. One thing we love is Boggle - we use these worksheets that I write up boggle board rolls onto and they use that to look for words on the go - with no competition.  Another thing we love is finding the "Scrabble" tile value of her words for each week. Oh, and Spelling Battleship has been fun!

The least visually appealing portion of the schoolroom is the "teacher stuff" below the archway. Filing cabinet, printer, table, ink, paper, under it is boxes of paper and CDs and cords.  The filing cabinet is used as a place to play with our magnets.  I've created story props by printing pictures from Pinterest and laminating and glueing a magnet to them. For example, I've got 5 silly monkeys, a mom on the phone, and a bed to jump on!

The verse of the week is written in chalk paint on this board in the entryway outside the schoolroom.