Host a Sensory Friendly Virtual Valentine’s Day Classroom Party

For many students, holiday celebrations at schools are different with online learning. Many children are navigating school online and remotely. This transition is difficult for students and parents, as well as teachers. Many educators struggle to create a sensory-friendly virtual classroom to accommodate all students’ needs. As a result, many teachers are unaware of the ways to create a sensory-friendly, virtual Valentine’s Day party for their students. Therefore, this blog post shares strategies to create a sensory-friendly Valentine’s Day virtual celebration for students.

Anne, a classroom teacher, contributed to this blog post. Anne has been teaching kindergarten and grades 1-3 for the past 28 years. Like many teachers, she has had to navigate moving from teaching in-person to teaching virtually, and back and forth. Anne shares ways to create a sensory-friendly virtual classroom and to create fun, accessible and inclusive online celebrations in this blog post.

What is a sensory-friendly virtual classroom?

Firstly, it is important to know what a sensory-friendly virtual classroom is, and the purpose of creating one. A sensory-friendly virtual classroom is a remote meeting space that has been adapted to be accessible and inclusive. It is important to note that all students can benefit from a sensory-friendly virtual classroom.

Furthermore, it is especially helpful for children with autism, sensory sensitivity or sensory processing disorders. By creating a sensory-friendly virtual classroom, you help to build stronger relationships with students. This is essential as research has shown that students with autism that have positive relationships with teachers tend to have decreased behavioural problems. Ultimately, creating sensory-friendly virtual learning ensures comfort, promotes learning and the engagement of all students.

Sensory-rich virtual classrooms

Additionally, creating a sensory-friendly virtual space is just as important as developing a sensory-friendly in-person classroom space. It may surprise you to learn that virtual classrooms are also sensory-rich. For example, the noise from unmuted microphones, different visual backgrounds students, difficulty hearing people talking and the extra effort to virtually be noticed to ask a question contribute to the sensory-rich experience. Therefore, without making adjustments to improve the accessibility of virtual lessons, many students experience difficulty paying attention, participating and learning.

Lastly, it is important to understand that sensory-friendly virtual meetings are not identical. Adjustments need to occur depending on the age group of the students, the purpose of the lesson or activity, as well as the actual activities that will take place. However, there are specific strategies you can use in every meeting to improve accessibility and inclusion.

How to create a virtual sensory-friendly Valentine’s Day celebration

Many teachers and students want to find creative and engaging ways to celebrate different holidays throughout the school year. That includes being online for school. Anne describes that many teachers right now feel a significant amount of pressure to make their online classrooms engaging and unique. Often, this internal pressure adds to teacher fatigue. However, there are simple ways for teachers to design virtual lessons to be sensory-friendly.

Infographic highlighting 8 ways to have a virtual sensory-friendly Valentine's Day classroom party.

Run activities in smaller virtual groups

The first suggestion that Anne has to make a virtual classroom more inclusive is engaging in activities in small groups of students. She explains that she finds it difficult to virtually teach and facilitate activities in larger groups of students. Instead, she teaches in small groups of 4-5 students. Anne indicates that this teaching style allows her students to be more interactive with the lessons and activities.

Within these groups, Anne encourages her students to keep their microphones on throughout the duration of the lesson. This allows for greater conversation among students, increases participation and develops a safe online learning environment. Anne is mindful of background noise, however, while microphones are on.

“I try to make teaching online as warm, friendly and caring of a time that I can.”

-Anne, Elementary School Teacher

Provide information about the Valentine’s Day celebration and activities in advance

To help create a virtual Valentine’s Day party for your students, provide information about the celebration in advance. A common characteristic of many children with sensory processing disorders is the difficulty to adapt to change or something new or unfamiliar. Therefore, it is extremely helpful to prepare students in advance for the Valentine’s Day celebration.

To do this, Anne suggests sharing a virtual calendar with students. Share it both verbally and visually. Show and explain the change in schedule. Moreover, provide a countdown shown at the beginning of each school day until the event. Share that helpful daily reminder to students of the upcoming event. By giving students this information in advance, they will be able to begin to develop their expectations about the celebration. Additionally, it will give them the opportunity to ask the teacher or their parents’ questions in advance. That helps to resolve any potential unknowns and stressors regarding the event. Invite questions and provide answers even about activities that are designed to be fun.

Provide preparatory instructions for your virtual Valentine’s Day activities

Another effective strategy to help make your virtual Valentine’s Day sensory-friendly is to provide instructions about any activities in advance. A common barrier to facilitating different activities virtually is not being able to provide students with the necessary materials needed to participate at the time. For example, many students may not have access to the same arts and crafts materials as others. Therefore, to avoid this issue, provide both students and parents with detailed information about the activity in advance. Furthermore, provide alternatives and adaptations, so that all students can participate regardless of what they have on hand at home.

Plan, share and adapt

To do this, contact parents a few weeks in advance about any special materials. Parents are navigating remote learning, too. Give them time to prepare along with their children. Additionally, if parents or caregivers are not able to get certain materials, provide alternatives. It is important to stay flexible. Adapt to different students’ circumstances during online learning to include all children.

young Asian girl learning online

Furthermore, provide students with preparatory instructions about any Valentine’s day activities. For example, if you plan to use a new feature on an online platform, send instructions out to students in advance. Hold a practice session just for that. For instance, if you want students to unmute themselves upon entry to the call, display the unmute button on your screen at the beginning of class. There are effective ways to explain to students how to use various virtual functions. Examples are having a screenshot to show on the screen that can be downloadable and printable. Furthermore, show, tell and practice using the mute feature, chat function or raise hand button. Practice these skills outside of the fun Valentine’s Day activity. Set students up for success to enjoy fun virtual events by building the skills they need to participate in advance.

Ensure you use a good quality microphone and headset

An essential part to host any sensory-friendly virtual meeting is having a good quality microphone and headset. A common sensory-rich aspect of online learning is poor sound quality. That leads to difficulty understanding instructions. To avoid this, invest in a good quality microphone and headset. Ensure your students are able to clearly hear you throughout the lesson and activity. Furthermore, a good quality headset on your part will help you hear them.

Create a sensory-friendly Valentine’s Day presentation

An important aspect of online learning is having engaging and sensory-friendly presentations. Therefore, create a sensory-friendly Valentine’s Day presentation for your students. Make your lesson presentations sensory-friendly, too! Simply put, a sensory-friendly presentation displays information in a simple and easy-to-understand manner. It does not overwhelm the senses, in particular, vision. For example, alternate using words, pictures and numbers on slides. Do not make slides too busy. Busy slides are distracting and difficult for students to understand.

Throughout the presentation, it is important to continue to engage the students. It is difficult for many children to sit in front of the computer screen for a long time without losing focus.

Add different sensory experiences

Use these ideas to incorporate more senses than just passively watching and listening on screen. Get students to move on-screen and to move away from the screen and come back. Movement helps the sensory nervous system both calm and focus.

  • Write a Valentine’s Day card to a friend or parent;
  • Practice learning and drawing heart shapes;
  • Color in a Valentine’s Day themed sheet;
  • Give students 3 minutes to find count all the red things in their room or house and come back and type the number in chat or share verbally in turns.
  • Have students try to make a heart shape with their fingers, arms, legs and bodies and then show on screen.
  • Get student to go find a toy they love for show and tell.
  • Pass a paper heart (one available/they have made): have students figure out how to show a heart moving across their screen by holding it in their hands. Get them to move it from one end of the screen to the other and then “pick it up” from the previous student and “pass it” to the next one. Great visual-motor skills are needed!
  • Do a burst of teacher led jumping jacks and then get them to feel their heart pumping by placing their hands over their hearts.

Anne suggests taking 5 minutes at the beginning of every virtual class for a “soft start.” Let students greet their peers. She suggests running lessons and activities for approximately 20 minutes at a time. Then give students a structured and planned screen break. Furthermore, this will give them time to use the bathroom or get a drink or snack. Ultimately, short virtual sessions and planned breaks create more engagement.

Incorporate virtual sensory-friendly Valentine’s Day games and crafts

Finally, include different virtual Valentine’s Day games or crafts. We Are Teachers shares 13 easy ways to facilitate Valentine’s Day activities with students. Activities include things like sending virtual e-cards to friends, watching Valentine’s Day videos, reading a Valentine’s Day book together or playing a Zoom game as a class!

Anne suggested that incorporating virtual hands-on activities and lessons are effective ways to creatively engage your students. For example, Anne encourages the students to bring common items found around their homes to assist during lessons and activities. Additionally, she will sometimes prepare items that parents can pick up for their children to use during online school.

Give students choices in activities

Furthermore, Anne identifies that another effective way to help increase your students’ engagement is by giving students choice within activities. For example, Anne gives her students the opportunity to choose between learning or participating in different activities based on their interests. Consider giving your students options in what Valentine’s Day activity they would like to participate in. Ultimately, this allows them to incorporate some of their interests into their learning.

Although teaching in an online space may sometimes feel frustrating and difficult, there are many ways to adapt your virtual classrooms to meet the needs of all students. Implement these strategies to help make your class’ Valentine’s Day celebration an exciting and sensory-friendly party.

Big thank you to teacher Anne for sharing her valuable advice!

Interested in learning more about sensory-friendly strategies and tools for school?

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