As a child, Valentine’s Day celebrations at schools are often filled with candy, cards and heart-themed activities. This holiday is a time for celebration and excitement. However, for students with autism, sensory sensitivities or sensory disorders, Valentine’s Day celebrations in the classroom can be a confusing and overwhelming experience. As a result, many children may not enjoy this holiday and the various activities and traditions associated with it. A sensory-friendly Valentine’s Day celebration in class is the most effective way to resolve this issue!
As an educator or caregiver, it is important to learn about ways to adapt the typical classroom Valentine’s Day celebrations to be more sensory-friendly. This creates an inclusive, accessible school experience for students.
This blog post highlights simple and easy steps to create a sensory-friendly Valentine’s Day classroom celebration. Anne E., an elementary school teacher, shares the ways she makes her classroom celebrations sensory-friendly!
Why are sensory-friendly Valentine’s Day celebrations needed?
Firstly, it is important to understand why there is a need for sensory-friendly Valentine’s Day celebrations in the classroom. As mentioned, for students with sensory processing disorders, autism or sensory sensitivities, many typical classroom celebrations are simply sensory-rich. A sensory-rich experience has many different stimulating, exciting sensory aspects. For some people, that results in sensory overload.
The following are part of classroom Valentine’s Day celebrations that may be a challenge
Interruption in the typical classroom routine
Like any holiday, Valentine’s Day celebrations cause disruption to the daily classroom routine. For example, certain lessons or recess times may be interrupted to include Valentine’s Day activities. For many children disruptions in routines are anxiety-inducing. A research study found that children with autism, for example, often display avoidant, sensory seeking and tuned-out behaviour in response to unwanted changes in their routines. Ultimately, this reaction leads to difficulties engaging in activities at home and at school. Thus, the simple change in classroom routine may lead to a stress response from the student.
Different social norms and behaviours
Additionally, the different social norms that occur during Valentine’s Day celebrations are confusing for students to understand, learn and navigate.
On Valentine’s Day, there are different social behaviours. For example, it is more common for people to share compliments. Furthermore, there are new and unfamiliar phrases like “be my Valentine”. As a result of this, children often to not know how to act or respond appropriately.
Sensory-rich Valentine’s Day activities
At school, teachers often organize different Valentine’s Day activities for students to enjoy. However, many times these activities are a challenge for some children. For example, specific arts and craft activities may involve the students getting messy. Or activities may require students to work together more. Oftentimes, children with sensory processing disorders find it difficult to collaborate with others because other children do unexpected things.
Lastly, another common sensory-rich part of Valentine’s Day is the heightened excitement and emotions that surround the holiday. Excitement can be difficult to manage. Sometimes, emotions feel too overwhelming. Noise, the unexpected, big emotions all contribute to a sensory-rich environment.
How do you offer a sensory-friendly Valentine’s Day celebration?
Creating a sensory-friendly Valentine’s Day celebration in the classroom can be simple and low-cost. Below are suggestions to make your upcoming Valentine’s Day classroom party inclusive and accessible to more children.
Teacher Anne explained that she approaches her classroom learning and celebrations in an inclusive and sensory-friendly way. She ensures that all students feel included and recognized. Anne shares ways that she has modified her classroom’s celebrations to be more accessible.
Develop expectations about Valentine’s Day
An effective way to create a more sensory-friendly Valentine’s Day celebration is to help student develop expectations for the event. To do this, create Valentine’s Day social story that describes the social expectations of the celebrations. A social story is a way of helping to prepare children for the social experience by explaining them, like a story.
Anne explains that she posts a visual calendar of events on the wall in her classroom. A visual calendar lets students know about upcoming events. Include a more detailed visual schedule for each day. A daily visual schedule gives students the ability to see upcoming lessons and activities that will take place throughout the day. This simple gesture allows her students to develop expectations at the beginning of each school day. It helps reduce the stress of any “unknowns” throughout their day.
Discuss the purpose of Valentine’s Day
Furthermore, it is helpful to discuss the purpose of Valentine’s Day with students. Talk about it in advance, and more than once. Preparation helps students develop a greater understanding of the celebration and the significance of different celebrations throughout the year. Additionally, preparation and practice help students learn new practices and vocabulary about the day.
Moreover, Anne explains that in her classroom, she always celebrates the different cultural holidays that any of her students participate in. This teaches her students to learn about different cultures. It also helps them understand the meaning behind different celebrations.
Additionally, Anne teaches the meaning and significance of different holidays, aligned to her classroom values. For example, a value she upholds among her students is teaching children to treat everyone like a friend. Therefore, on celebrations like Valentine’s Day, she explains to her students that this is a day to continue to honour friendships.
“Celebrations is more a chance to continue to respect and honour the things that make us unique. They help us understand others a little more.”-Anne, Elementary School Teacher
Practice Valentine’s Day activities in advance
Furthermore, a strategy to help the students feel comfortable prior to the Valentine’s Day celebrations is to practice in advance. A common Valentine’s Day tradition is distributing cards to peers. This social activity may feel overwhelming and uncomfortable for certain students. Therefore, practicing these activities in advance can be effective to help all students feel more comfortable with the process.
Incorporate student’s interests in sensory-friendly Valentine’s Day activities
Another effective strategy to create a more sensory-friendly Valentine’s Day celebration is to incorporate the student’s interests in the activities. Gather student input when brainstorming different activities for the day. For example, if the students like a particular book, TV character or movie character; then add those to personalized Valentine’s Day cards. Anne explains that an important part of her teaching approach is to give students a choice in lessons and activities. Anne relays that this keeps students interested and excited about participating.
Select sensory-friendly activities
There are a variety of different sensory-friendly Valentine’s Day activities to choose from. This includes Valentine’s Day-themed sensory bins, play dough activities and arts and crafts. Consider checking out this list of sensory-focused Valentine’s Day activities from Mess for Less.
Anne explains that she has modified various holiday activities in her classroom to make them more sensory-friendly. For example, her students create a different typ0e of sensory pumpkins on Halloween. Her class decorates their sensory pumpkin with seeds and other safe and edible materials. They then place it in the forest near their school for animals to enjoy.
Additionally, Anne uses sensory-friendly activities for other holidays such as creating gratitude chains and sharing meaningful holiday stories with peers.
Make celebrations calm
Anne explains that an important part of making your classroom celebrations sensory-friendly is making them more calming and relaxing. She relays that a grand classroom holiday celebration is not a high priority for her. Rather, she focuses more on finding ways to celebrate holidays in a calming and subdued way.
She incorporates class celebrations naturally into the classroom routine. Instead of completely shifting your typical classroom schedule, add short activities to the typical routine instead of changing the whole day.
Create a sensory-friendly Valentine’s Day environment
Lastly, an important aspect of creating a sensory-friendly Valentine’s Day is through making a sensory-friendly environment. Often, holiday decorations may incorporate bright colours and lights that can be overwhelming.
Alternatively, Anne focuses on creating a relaxed and calm classroom environment for all students to enjoy. For example, she uses techniques such as using natural light instead of overhead lights. Furthermore, music is quiet and calming instead of boisterous.
Valentine’s Day is a holiday that all students can look forward to and participate in. Create a sensory-friendly Valentine’s Day will to include more children and make it accessible to all students. Big thank you to teacher Anne for her valuable contributions to this blog post!
More Tips for Teachers:
- Host a Sensory Friendly Virtual Valentine’s Day Classroom Party
- How to Create a Sensory-Friendly Classroom
- How To be a Sensory-Friendly Teacher
Tools for Teachers:
Chair Socks, Chair Glides and Tennis Balls for Chairs
Ear Muffs and Reducing Noise for Sensory Sensitivity
What You Need to Know About a Weighted Lap Pad
Darian’s story: Celebrate success
What the best toys for an autistic child?
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