Vikkilynn Rolfs realized she needed to take a different approach.
Instead of relying on traditional forms of teaching in the day care center at Open House Ministries, a shelter for homeless families on 12th Street in Vancouver, Rolfs has opted for a more modern approach.
That includes using sensory toys to teach and calm the children. In May, Open House won a $5,000 grant from the Vancouver Energy Community Fund to support the day care’s “sensory calming project.” Rolfs, the day care director, used the money to bolster the center’s selection of sensory toys. She still has about $1,000 left to spend.
“These kids just weren’t getting it,” said Rolfs, who has also taught kindergarten. “I thought, ‘Let’s just approach it differently. Let’s make everything sensory. Give them things to play with, so everything seems like a game instead of sitting and learning.’ ”
The new sensory toys include building block magnets that come in different shapes, a pad that changes colors when kids step on it ,and a table that lights up as kids roll sensory beads around its top.
There are also weighted pads that kids can press on and lay across their laps. That’s in addition to the weighted vests that can help calm kids who are having a tough time. The pads and vests are used for both education and peacekeeping.
“There’s something about weight that is really calming,” Rolfs said.
Rolfs noted having one child who is throwing a temper tantrum can “totally change the flavor of the whole room.” The sensory toys help with that aspect, but also promote exploration and discovery.
Rolfs explained that many of the children she works with at the shelter “have experienced a whole lot of things in their short life that many people don’t experience in their whole lives.” She also mentioned that the sensory toys are helpful for kids who are on the autism spectrum.
Since sensory toys are designed to stimulate multiple senses, and help develop motor skills, they can help develop imagination and creative thinking. Rolfs mentioned the toys have helped some of her kids on the spectrum become more talkative.
Instead of forcing kids to listen for a lesson, she can let them explore the classroom, and learn on their own.
“It’s not us saying, ‘Hey sit down. It’s time to do this.’ All the areas are there if they want them,” Rolfs said.
Rolfs will visit children at the various play areas, and help guide them. The day care has a clear easel that kids can paint on, and Rolfs can teach them about how two different colors make one color while they paint. Or kids can learn vocabulary from describing feelings or sensations that come from the different toys.
“They learn much more when they’re playing,” Rolfs said. “It’s making a world of difference.”