The Shalom Room

Mary Grace Lentz, Kindergarten Teacher and Student Support Specialist, Seattle Jewish Community School

The kindergarten students enter the classroom and prepare for the morning. One student is accidently bumped by several of the students as they hang up coats and put away lunches. Shira (not her real name) begins to cry, and her body is shaking. She is about to have a “meltdown.” Shira is escorted into the Shalom Room, a sensory room, and is guided through the “hug machine,” a deep pressure device designed by Temple Grandin, to help individuals calm themselves when feeling overwhelmed. After using the hug machine, Shira hops onto the platform swing and covers herself with a weighted blanked.

A few moments pass, and she is no longer crying. Her body is calm, and she is almost ready to reenter the classroom. She ends her time in the Shalom Room by sitting on a ball and immersing her hands in the sand table before calmly reentering the classroom and beginning her day. Through practice and guidance, Shira knew exactly what she needed to do to come to calm, and she was able to join in the morning activities successfully.

At SJCS, through the generosity of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, we are learning how sensory processing differences can impact learning. We designed a sensory room through the expertise and guidance of our OT consultant, Bek Wiltbank. We are learning how to support students with sensory needs both in the classroom and through the use of our Shalom Room.

The Shalom Room is used as a place to teach our students calming techniques in order to be functional in the school environment. The goal in using the Shalom Room is to develop practical skills that can be transferred into the school environment as well as help students reenter the learning environment successfully.

“I need to use the Shalom Room, I’m feeling overwhelmed.” Abe (not his real name) begins to use the climbing ladder. He goes up and down three times, and then curls up in the hammock swing, covering up with a blanket. Relaxing music is playing in the background. Abe is humming. “Can I sit on the ball with the headphones?” He switches to the ball, moving his body back and forth. He soon transitions to the sand table. “I am feeling ready to go back into the classroom.” In the past, this student would cry, hide out under the table, and/or yell at his classmates. Now, he is able to integrate appropriately in the classroom.

Increasingly, educators are coming to realize that people naturally experience and respond differently to different stimuli. For most of us, this process occurs automatically and without effort. Our environment changes—we move from an empty room to a crowded room, we change clothing, loud music comes on—and we don’t think much of it. But for some, this process does not develop as effectively as it should. And as the Rambam said, “a healthy mind and soul is supported by a healthy body,” נפש בריאה בגוף בריא.

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HaYidion Excellence Summer 2015
Summer 2015