The holiday season is upon us and whilst it is a very exciting time, for many children with additional needs, it can be quite overwhelming. No doubt you will want to transform your classrooms or homes into a magical wonderland to celebrate Christmas, but there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure that your classroom is inclusive of individual needs whist still being festive, magical and special.
10 Ways to Make an Inclusive Festive Classroom
1. Gradually add festive decorations
Children with conditions such as autism can find changes, especially sudden changes, distressing and upsetting. If they left their normal classroom on November 30th and on December 1st it had been totally decorated with Christmas decor, that unexpected and sudden change could cause them to be very anxious and upset. Instead, slowly and gradually decorate the classroom so that the change is less sudden. It's also worth explaining what decorations are going to be going up where and when so that children can prepare for that change. This is a great opportunity to get their input as well!
2. Decoration-free zones
Whilst most of us love the festive decorations, the sensory input can be overwhelming and overstimulating. There's often lots of shiny things, glitter, lights etc. and for children who struggle with sensory processing, this can be too much to process and can be distracting during learning. Try to have a small area of the classroom, perhaps a calm zone or reading corner, where there are no festive decorations so that children can escape to that area if needed or if they are feeling over stimulated.
3. Noise Regulation
We all know that when children (and adults!) get excited over the festive period, the levels of noise in the classroom may go up. Children are going to be excited, wanting to talk about their festivities and activities that they've done in the run up to Christmas but increased levels of noise in the classroom may be uncomfortable for some. We don't want to discourage any excitement, but we do need to manage it. You can try noise-o-meters in the classroom or provide children who are sensitive to noise with noise-cancelling headphones. Providing fidget or stim toys can also help self-regulation if children are overwhelmed.
4. Provide more sensory breaks or alone time
During this busy time, children with additional needs may need more frequent breaks where they can self-regulate, spend time alone or spend time away from the hustle and bustle of an excited, festive classroom. If you have calm corners, break out rooms or sensory rooms, allow children more regular access to these.
5. Advance Warning of Changes to Routine or Timetable
The festive season brings lots of changes to the daily school routine and timetable. There'll be festive assemblies, nativity plays, different classes etc. and whilst this often happens every year, it is still a big change for children to navigate. If there are going to be any changes to your standard daily routine, try to give as much warning as possible so that children can prepare and be aware that there'll be something different.
6. Increase Visual Aids
Every classroom should have a visual timetable which details the contents of the day in an easy to understand way so that children are aware of the plan ahead. Tying in with changes to the daily routine, provide a copy of your festive timetable with key dates to each child who needs it so that they can also have a copy at home and parents can help prepare for any days where the usual timetable is going to be deviated from.
7. Christmas Lunch Adaptations
Most schools will have a day where the lunch menu is a mini Christmas lunch - a day often looked forward to by many students and staff! Whilst it may be a welcome change for many, new food can mean new smells in the lunch room which could be overwhelming for some students, especially those with sensory processing disorders. The change may also be distressing if children aren't warned about it in advance. If they prefer, allow children to eat in a different part of the lunch room, or potentially in another room where the smells won't bother them.
8. Visits from Santa
A surprise visit from Santa can be magical for many children, but for others it can be very frightening and distressing. Where possible, plan a step-by-step explanation of when Santa will be visiting your class or your school and provide a social story if you can. This will help reduce anxiety and improve understanding of what is going to happen, when it is going to happen and why it is happening.
9. Festive Dress-Up
If you are planning a festive dress-up day, such as a Christmas Jumper Day, keep in mind that some children will be sensitive to certain textures of clothing. Jumpers can be often scratchy, and some festive jumpers also play sounds and have lights incorporated so can be a bit of a sensory overload. Providing an alternative option, such as wearing a Christmas t-shirt or Christmas socks, is a great way to ensure everyone can take part without compromising their sensory needs. Additionally, provide advance notice so that children can prepare for a non-uniform day ahead of time.
By no means is this a comprehensive list of things you may want to consider at Christmas time, but these are simple, easy-to-execute things that you can start doing today to make the festive period easier to navigate for neurodiverse children.