Treetops School - Learning through fun

The 232-pupil school which specialises in Autistic development but cares for children with a wide range of conditions, collaborated with SpaceKraft on the development of two Softplay Rooms and two Multi-Sensory Rooms.

"We knew from experience at the original site the kind of products we really liked," explains Deputy Headteacher, Lesley Love. "We had a very good understanding of what we wanted before we came here."

The Softplay Rooms which encourage mobility and expression, are now established as a vital and extremely popular resource at the school and used for a variety of functions; "We use the rooms as a way of teaching children to communicate," says Lesley. "The rooms are highly motivating for the children and they're particularly encouraged to ask for the things in the rooms that they like. It really helps develop their communication skills."

The Softplay Rooms provide a safe environment for children with physical disabilities to perform mobility exercises and are used extensively in the one-to-one communication development of Autistic children. It's this flexible, multi-functional ability that is at the heart of the project's ongoing success at the school.

Not that the Softplay and Multi-Sensory rooms are beneficial to the children alone; the rooms provide the school's teachers with an ideal starting-off point in which to develop and expand on the school's 'Learning Through Fun' philosophy. In putting this philosophy into action, the rooms have been placed at the very core of Treetops' developmental activities.

Although all parts of the rooms are used by the staff and children, Lesley herself singles out the Multi-Sensory Room's 'Bubble Tube' as an especially indispensable resource, claiming this innovative piece of equipment has even spurred some children into their first attempts at speech; "The children love it so much," she tells us. "Some of the children at the school, their first word has been 'bubbles' because they're so motivated to ask for them. If I had to choose a favourite thing in the room it would be that."

With Treetops caring for children between 2-19 years old, developing separate multi-sensory environments was essential on a basic level - after all, as Lesley points out, a 14 year old running about is rather different to a 2 year old. Sometimes age segregation is a very practical necessity!

Although older classes might enjoy more group work with the Multi-Sensory Room's UV lamp and frequently use the mirage projector, the rooms still function in a similar way for all ages; "The general aim is to get the children, whatever their age, to communicate better and to develop better relationships with other children. If older children have similar needs to the younger children, they use the equipment in a similar way - learning to have fun with people and learning to ask for things is key."

Indeed, part of SpaceKraft's initial collaboration with Treetops saw them working very closely alongside Lesley in the development of a whole new product. Lesley's 'Tumble Rocker' is a half-sphere which children can sit in and be rocked. "Children love to be rocked," she explains. "They're rewarded with rocking if they make better attempts at clarity of speech. It's brilliant - it's a really good piece of equipment."

With SpaceKraft always keen to work closely with customers, Lesley is already looking at developing the Multi-Sensory rooms further; "I'd like to look at hanging things from the ceiling for vestibular work - swings for example - that's definitely a future project.