How to Create a Sensory Space in the Classroom

Anyone can get overwhelmed and find it hard to concentrate due to overstimulation. This is especially true among our neurodivergent students who might struggle in a stimulus-filled environment.

That’s why having a sensory area in (or near) the classroom can be really helpful. It’s a place where the students can relax, focus, and as a result, learn better.

In my years of teaching in special education in a variety of different classrooms, I’ve learned that creating a sensory space doesn’t have to be hard.

And now, I’m ready to share some tips I’ve lived by whenever I need to build a sensory area for my classroom!

Understanding Sensory Processing

Sensory Processing

Before you start building a sensory space in the classroom, you first need to understand what it’s for. To start, let’s talk about sensory processing.

According to Dr. A. J. Ayres, sensory processing is “the ability to take in, sort out, process, and make use of information from the world around us.”

Imagine it like this: our bodies have sensors all over, like antennas. These sensors send messages to our brains about what is happening outside. Then, our brains figure out what to do with that information.

But sometimes, our brains can get overwhelmed when there’s too much information coming in at once. This can make it hard for us to focus or feel comfortable.

In the same way, your classroom can be filled with lots of sensory information, and this can overwhelm your students. As a result, they may have a harder time focusing. 

What our students need in a time like this is regulation. To help the students with self-regulation, you can create a sensory space in the classroom that addresses their sensory needs.

What Is a Sensory Space?

A sensory space is a specially designed place in the classroom where neurodivergent students (i.e. autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Down syndrome, TBI, etc.) can go whenever they feel overwhelmed by the classroom environment.

This space is designed to support a student’s sensory needs to self-regulate so they can be focused on learning and be more comfortable interacting with others.

A sensory space may be called different names like:

  • Sensory room
  • Calm space
  • Chill-out room
  • Multi-sensory room
  • Sensory garden

A sensory space can be small or big, depending on what’s needed. It’s often filled with sensory equipment to help students feel better.

In this space, students can do simply rest or do activities that help them feel better, like calming down when they’re upset or working on self-regulation. They can use the space anytime they need a break from the busier classroom environment.

Why Do You Need a Sensory Space in the Classroom?

By creating sensory spaces, you can help your students feel safe and calm so they can focus on their learning.

Sensory spaces are usually made for a special education classroom, but the truth is, that all students can benefit from it. Sensory activities help both neurodivergent and neurotypical kids regulate themselves.

Benefits of Creating a Sensory Space

  • Reduce sensory overload for students who are overwhelmed with the school environment, therefore helping them achieve a calmer state of learning.
  • Provide increased sensory input for students who are under-responsive.
  • Include mindfulness activities to help the students notice how their bodies feel inside, which helps them control their emotions.
  • Promote self-care, empowerment, resilience, and recovery.
  • Can be used as a trauma-informed approach to support students who have been through tough times like losing someone important, being neglected, or experiencing abuse and chronic stress.

How to Create a Sensory Space


Creating a sensory area might sound like a big task, but it’s simpler than you think. And when it’s well set up, it will positively impact your classroom!

The key is to make your sensory space flexible and adaptable to your students’ differing needs. Here are some of my top tips when designing a sensory space.

#1: For Visual Stimulation, Less Is More

I know you might have an urge to get all the cute charts, posters, and schedules posted and make your classroom as bright and colorful as possible. But even though these are useful, if there are too many, it might make your students feel overwhelmed.

So the best thing to do is avoid posting these in your sensory area.

What else can you do to minimize visual stimulation?

  • Use minimal patterns, fonts and decorations.
  • Use calming, muted colors on the walls.
  • Keep equipment in a closed storage like opaque bins or cabinets.


These tips can help eliminate visual clutter which may be overwhelming to your students.

If you are going to put up posters, you can display pictures of different calming strategies! These can serve as cues to help your students independently calm themselves.

#2: Use Warm Light or Dimming Options

Provide warm light and dimming options to create a calming atmosphere for your students.

Consider using warm, soft lighting instead of bright fluorescent lights. If you want, you can use a color-changing light that allows you to choose which color will light up the space.

You can also use dimmer switches to regulate the intensity of light and add blackout curtains to control natural light and reduce visual stimuli from the outside.

#3: Reducing the Noise

Another factor to consider when building your sensory area is auditory stimuli. Excessive noise can make it difficult for your students to concentrate, so making your sensory space quiet is beneficial.

How can you reduce the noise in the sensory space? Use soft, sound-absorbing materials like carpets, rugs, and curtains. If you have a big budget, you can use sound-reducing wall panels.

You may also use a white noise machine or offer noise-canceling headphones to your students when needed.

#4: Choose a Quiet Location

Your sensory space doesn’t have to be a very large area, but it should be placed in a quiet location that’s somewhat away from the main activity of the classroom.

Look for a free space in your classroom, like a corner at the back where it’s free from clutter, and develop that into a sensory area.

A sensory space with educational toys, stuffed animals, puzzles on the floor, and a small table near a window with natural light

#5: Consider Olfactory Stimuli

Sight and hearing aren’t the only senses to consider when designing your sensory space. Olfactory stimuli, or smells, can also significantly impact the learning environment.

Ensure that your sensory area is clean and free from any strong odors. Avoid strong-smelling cleaning products or scents because they may trigger sensory discomfort in your students.

Now, if some of your students have a strong preference for smells, you can offer them scented erasers, smelly markers, or essential oils.

#6: Sense of Security

Your goal for the sensory space is to make it feel like a safe area for your students when they’re overwhelmed or dysregulated.

You can set up a tent, like a pop-up or hanging tent, or you can even drape an old sheet to make a fort. Another option is to arrange your bookcases or other furniture to create barriers that separate your sensory area from the rest of the classroom space.

Sensory Overload Free Lesson and Video

#7: It's Important to Think about Seats

Seats may seem trivial, but having the right seats is helpful in a sensory space. You should consider the comfort, stability, and texture of seating.

There are lots of options when it comes to sensory seats, and you can provide multiple options depending on your students’ needs.

A wobble cushion, exercise balls, or rocking chair can help movement-seeking students, while some pillows or bean bag chairs can help with relaxation.

#8: The Right Equipment

You can fill your sensory space with sensory equipment, but make sure not to overdo it! Begin with basic items and consider getting more if you have the budget.

When ordering, choose equipment that’s durable and easy to clean. You can even ask the guidance of an occupational therapist.

Here are some of my recommendations:

  • Fidgets and other movement-based items like sensory swings and spinners offer a kinetic distraction and allow the students to redirect their excess energy to help them focus.
  • Therapy balls of all shapes, textures, and sizes are perfect for students to kick, squeeze, hug, punch, or play with.
  • Weighted blankets, body socks, and sensory peapods can provide deep, even pressure to sensitive areas of the body and can also give a sense of security.
  • Play tents and tunnels provide a place for students to crawl and use their muscles while also giving them a sense of escape from stimuli.
  • Stuffed animals, vibrating pillows, and textured rugs can provide tactile comfort.
  • Sensory bins that contain sensory tools such as shredded paper, bubble wrap, water beads, sand, and therapy putty.
Female using laptop and wearing headphones at work. There are people in the background.

When to Use a Sensory Space

The best time for the students to use a sensory space is preventatively (before they start feeling overwhelmed or dysregulated). The neurodiversity-affirming approach includes allowing students access to this important accommodation throughout the day, in order to prevent sensory overload from arising. 

Now, you’re ready to create a sensory space in your classroom! Remember that it’s not just about providing a physical space – it’s about creating a supportive environment.

By designing a well-set-up sensory area, you’re helping your students develop the self-regulation skills they need. You’re also promoting a positive learning experience for them.

So go ahead and transform your little corner!