Kids help classmates with 'sensory box'

Posted at 7:00 AM, Feb 18, 2016

Four fifth-graders at Yealey Elementary School have sparked an interest in service learning with a box they designed for special education students.

The box, called a sensory box, is a plastic container filled with rice and objects including toy cars, a rubber duck and action figures. Prompted with a “find-it” list on the front of the box, the multiple-disability students put their hands through holes cut in the lid and search for specific items.

The students who designed the box — Mariah Mendenhall, Andrew Zdarsky, Lyndsey Baker and Amberly Turner — knew early in the school year that they wanted to create something, but they weren’t sure what. Assistant Principal Katie Hiatt, who started the school year as a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) teacher, helped them determine their goal with a simple challenge.

“They came to me as a STEM teacher wanting to go to MakerSpace,” Hiatt said..

NKY MakerSpace in Burlington is a center that fosters STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) learning for kindergartners through 12th-graders by providing resources like construction tools, soundproof booths and a 3-D printer.

“I challenged them with, ‘We can go to MakerSpace, but you have to have a purpose,’” Hiatt said.

About a week later, they came back with a proposal to make toys for their schoolmates with multiple disabilities.

Hiatt challenged a group of students to find a purpose for a trip NKY MakerSpace. The result was this sensory box to help multiple-disability students. Photo provided

“As an educator and as a parent, to see kids this young look at their peers and recognize their peers have a challenge they may not have,… it was encouraging that we have students who are thinking that way,” Hiatt said. “It just really shows me that they’re on the right path to become caring and compassionate adults.”

After nailing down their goal, they still needed some guidance. The four students interviewed occupational therapist Beth Gartman and physical therapist Amy Schlueter to learn more about their peers’ strengths, weaknesses and needs.

“I was really excited about it,” Gartman said. “I just thought it was a really neat opportunity.”

From their interview, Mendenhall, Zdarsky, Baker and Turner learned that grasping and touching objects that feel cold or wet are challenging for many of the special-education students.

Learning more about their fellow students helped determine what would be both fun and beneficial, Mendenhall said.

“We were thinking about what their needs were before we interviewed them,” Baker said. “Once we figured that out, we immediately knew what we wanted to do. It was pretty easy going from there.”

Designing and creating the sensory box provided an opportunity to use the NKY MakerSpace and help others, but it also gave the students a real-world application for skills they learned in school. They multiplied length and height to determine volume and recalled lessons on circumference and diameter as they measured and cut holes in the lid, Turner said.

The students particularly liked using a 3-D printer to make grommets for the holes. “That was really cool to actually see it work," Zdarsky said.

With the sensory box complete, the group is already brainstorming for its next project.

Their schoolmates took notice, too. The project has inspired a desire throughout the Boone County school to help others, Hiatt said.

“This project with these kids has really sparked an interest in our students in wanting to do other types of service learning,” she said.