Learning Spaces

You Might Have A Calming Sensory Room. Do You Have A 'Wiggle Room,' Too?

There is another type of sensory room that is just as important: a sensorimotor space or motor lab room, sometimes fondly referred to as a “wiggle room.”

Recognizing the learning benefits of sensory rooms, a growing number of schools are adding these spaces within their buildings to help students build intrinsic self-regulation skills that may support better focus, attention, and behavior.

When people think of sensory rooms, they often think of quiet, calming spaces (or “chill zones”) where students can go to relax and regroup. These spaces may help all students focus better and learn to manage their emotions, but students with anxiety or sensory processing issues may find these calming spaces spaces4learning LEARNING SPACES especially beneficial.

However, there is another type of sensory room that is just as important: a sensorimotor space or motor lab room, sometimes fondly referred to as a “wiggle room.”

This article examines what a wiggle room is, how it can help students learn more effectively, and what elements a successful wiggle room should have.

wiggle room

What is a wiggle room?

As part of a sensory-rich experience to support better focus, attention, and behavior, students might need both opportunities for cozy spaces that promote calming and sensorimotor spaces that provide opportunities for gross motor movement.

A wiggle room addresses the latter need. It’s an active space where students are encouraged to move, play, and explore using a variety of sensory activities, including opportunities for vestibular input (movement), tactile input (touch), and proprioceptive input (deep touch pressure and heavy work).

Wiggle rooms are often used by early childhood learning environments, where movement and play are an integral part of learning and development. Yet, they may also be an effective strategy for improving focus and learning for elementary and middle school students.

Why are wiggle rooms important?

There is a growing body of research that suggests children who are physically active tend to do better in school. Movement increases blood flow, which awakens our cells and stimulates our brains. In turn, students feel more alert and can focus more effectively on their learning.

Dr. John J. Ratey, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has studied the relationship between movement and learning. His research has found that students’ brains tend to go on autopilot if they sit still for more than 20 minutes. On the other hand, moving around boosts blood flow to the brain and stimulates cognitive activity, improving students’ ability to concentrate, learn and retain information, and tap into their creative abilities. These benefits last well after students have stopped exercising, according to Ratey’s research.

All students need to move throughout the school day, and those with certain sensory processing challenges or difficulty self-regulating need to move more frequently. We know that many students with sensory processing disorders can be overly sensitive (or hypersensitive) to certain stimuli in their environment. But other students may be under-responsive to stimuli or may exhibit sensory craving. These students seek activities involving jumping, bouncing, bumping, and crashing, as well as deep touch pressure input — and research supports the idea that frequent movement might actually help them learn more effectively.

Despite clear evidence linking movement to better learning, particularly for students who are sensory seekers, many students still don’t get enough movement during the school day. As a result of time, space, and scheduling constraints and the need to cover so much curriculum, many schools have reduced the amount of time allotted for physical education or recess — and some have eliminated these activities altogether.

A wiggle space can solve these challenges, giving students quick opportunities to move throughout the school day. Taking an indoor wiggle room break can help students regain focus and attention for the remainder of the school day, and it can help younger students strengthen emerging gross motor skills.

Creating an effective wiggle room for your school

Designing a sensorimotor space is an opportunity to be creative. However, some common activities in a wiggle room include climbing, bouncing, swinging, and crawling, among others.

For instance, students love to climb and hang, and horizontal Bouldering Boards allow them to do this safely. Traversing the length of the board builds imagination while strengthening back and shoulder muscles needed for posture and fine motor activities back in the classroom.

A scooter board ramp is another climbing apparatus that kids enjoy. Perched on a scooter board either seated or lying flat on their stomach, students can zoom down the ramp or pull themselves up using the ramp’s T-shaped rails.

The Spacesaver Nest combines climbing and bouncing in a compact design that fits easily into the corner of a room. When arranged blue side down, it serves as a springless trampoline-like surface, with the inflated vinyl sides offering added safety. Flip it over, and the bottom of the bouncing surface serves as a cozy nest that students can climb into for
added spatial boundary definition.

The Abilitations Spacewalk is a giant pillow filled with chunks of foam, creating an uneven but cushy surface for walking, crawling, rolling, or jumping. Crawling into tight spaces builds body awareness and motor planning skills; the Fun Tube Tunnel’s mesh sides allow adults to monitor the child throughout this activity.

These foam rolling pins help apply deep pressure sensory input to assist with calming, and they can be hung on a wall by their handles for easy access. And, the SensaTrak inflatable round ball chamber offers a sensory seeking option for rolling or rocking gently for calming.

Consider these ideas as starting points to help you design a wiggle room that meets your own students’ needs. However you decide to equip your wiggle room, make sure you remember to include mats on the floor to keep students safe.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

Cecilia Cruse, MS. OTR/L received her BS degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Florida, and her Master’s degree in Education from Georgia State University. She is SIPT (Sensory Integration & Praxis Test) certified and has over 30 years’ experience in pediatrics with school- based services (including pre-school and Head Start programs) acute care and outpatient pediatric settings. She has authored several articles for professional periodicals and magazines and has served as a trainer/consultant and service provider in several school systems. Cecilia is currently the Subject Matter Expert for Abilitations/ School Specialty, Inc. Special Needs Division.