Many families, staff, and students gathered at Tauranga Special School last week to attend a Mihi Whakatau and blessing of different areas of the school.
One of these areas was the new outdoor sensory spaces, which wowed all in attendance with their colourful, interactive elements.
The spaces are designed to provide students focused learning opportunities and sensory integration, with plenty to touch, see, hear, and smell; from hanging musical pipes and an enclosed light sensory room, to a water feature and outdoor streamers.
Each area has its own purpose, starting with a sensory garden and sensory pathway, which includes a variety of textured surfaces – developed for all students, but with a specific focus on students in wheelchairs.
At the end of the path, a small teaching and learning space gives teachers an opportunity to engage the students outside the classroom in a sensory environment.
A total sensory immersion area has also been designed for mobile, agile, non-verbal sensory-seeking students. This area is flexible with the ability to have interchangeable equipment such as bubbles, a hammock, lycra swing, or sandpit, which will support active play, impact children’s creative thinking, and develop motor skills.
All areas are also zoned for audio input, with the ability to play different music in each space or listen to audiobooks.
As the only outdoor therapy area of its kind in Tauranga, it will be well-used by Tauranga Special School’s 101 students and by other local service providers such as respite care organisations, Autism NZ and Arohanui Trust.
Jo Crean, Teacher and Funding Coordinator at Tauranga Special School, says the spaces will make a big difference to the school and families by providing a new, diverse and engaging experience.
“The benefit of sensory spaces is definitely undervalued in many places. We designed the spaces with the help of Richard Hirstwood in England, who is a sensory guru. CGC Landscape Company completed most of the project with input from Mitre 10 in the Sensory Pathway. We are delighted with how it has turned out.
“Each space has a unique focus and responds to the needs of specific students whose needs previously have not been met in an outdoor environment. It provides accessible sensory stimulation that encourages learning and camaraderie in safe and engaging environments, and it will have so many benefits for our students and the wider community.”
Tauranga Special School is the only special needs school in the Tauranga region. As the leading provider of education for students aged 5 to 21 with special educational needs in the Western Bay of Plenty, they provide a specialised curriculum designed to meet the unique characteristics of their students.
The school’s students have intellectual disabilities that impact how they can process and retain information and problem solve. Some students are on the autistic spectrum, have physical and sensory impairments or associated health issues.
With this often comes complicated sensory needs or social-emotional issues. Jo says the newly developed outdoor area will most definitely help with these needs.
“The sensory spaces are designed to support students to become more receptive to the world around them, with each area triggering various neurological experiences, some of which are new, some familiar and often exciting combinations.
“This allows students and adults to improve elements of their cognitive function, whilst remaining in a safe, relaxing environment.”
Jo says the project was made possible by an $80,000 TECT grant and the work of many volunteers as part of the Mitre 10 Helping Hands programme.
“We feel incredibly fortunate for all the help we received from both TECT and Mitre 10.
“When I applied to TECT and it was accepted, it was a massive relief as the total project costs were over $230,000, so it was a significant chunk of that. It would have been impossible to achieve without their support.
“We appreciate that TECT saw the value in our vision and what we have ultimately created for our students and families. It will make such a big difference in their lives and learning.”
TECT Trustee Peter Blackwell attended the blessing and says it was heartwarming to be a part of the day.
“Everyone in attendance at the blessing had the opportunity to add a lick of paint to a new pergola in one of the sensory spaces. It was fantastic to see teachers, family members and students getting involved, being a part of this special moment in history for the school and for our region.
“We’re proud at TECT to be a part of that with our funding – it’s what it’s all about. Making good things happen for the benefit of our community.”
To learn more about Tauranga Special School, visit https://www.taurangaspecialschool.nz/.
View the Mitre 10 Helping Hands video here https://youtu.be/PuhopcWNyHE