Staff members at Heritage Elementary School recently developed a new way to reward students or quickly calm those experiencing behavioral lapses while also supplementing classroom learning.

Be it in a hallway going to their next classes or in a small space next to a stairwell at their school, students at Heritage are using their senses in new ways to learn letters, numbers and words.

Two "sensory spaces" have been developed by teachers and staff at the school to develop reading and math skills, to reward good behavior and provide "brain breaks" for students who might have extra energy to release or who are having trouble staying on task with their classmates.

"It depends on the child," said Jody Schwartz, an intervention specialist at Heritage. "It's all individualized space.

"I used it yesterday because we needed to relax and focus before math class."

The spaces were created mostly using materials teachers and staff already had.

They provide footsteps for students to follow, numbered hop-scotch boxes and all manner of textured letters, numbers, words and other visuals for students to look at and feel.

One of the spaces is located in a long hallway at the school where, previously, teachers said students often sprinted to and from classes.

Now, she said, students are slowing down and taking time to follow designated pathways or to count and learn short words like "was" or "how."

Another, next to a school stairwell, provides designated pathways, but also textured letters students can feel as they work their ways through the alphabet.

Additionally, the space has elements where students work string through holes in pieces of foam adhered to walls, and even a series of locks that students stop to unlock using keys and combinations.

Unless the students use the spaces on their way through the building, they're accompanied by a teacher or staff member who provides instructions or oversees activities.

"Typically, if they are angry or frustrated or whatever, we want to get them calmed down immediately," said Lori Starkey a paraprofessional educator at Heritage. "So, we'll have them do a bear crawl or a crab walk.

"They walk this far and then they walk back and it's just that deep tissue, that pressure, getting them relaxed or feeling good. At least getting them feeling calm."

Schwartz, Starkey and Heritage Intervention Specialist Toni Davis said the concepts of the sensory spaces aren't new.

Teachers have long used a variety of tools and methods, including books, games and disciplinary tactics, to calm or refocus students, they said.

The spaces, however, provide brief reprieves -- typically three to five minutes -- where a student can be taken outside a classroom to work through his or her issues in a less tense or threatening manner than the traditional trip to the principal's office.

At the stairwell space, students are asked to use magnets that describe emotional states ranging from anger and nervous, to relaxed and happy, to describe their feelings.

They use those magnets at the outset of being taken to the space and then reassess emotions after they've completed a sensory exercise.

At that point, teachers and other staff members can determine if the student is ready to return to class or if they might need to complete another task.

"We used to have to do things where we just grabbed books off the shelf and had them walk down the hall," Schwartz said. "This space, it's just a much higher level.

"It's contained and bright and cheerful and it makes the kids want to come.

"We might have one or two pieces in our rooms, but to bring it all together was the right thing."

Schwartz, Starkey and Davis credited Heritage Principal Chad Rice for letting them bring behavioral and learning tools outside classrooms and into hallways for more efficient results.

They also credited him with helping them get students excited about the sensory spaces and gain understanding of how they promote learning and proper behavior.

Pickerington Schools Public Relations Director David Ball said the spaces are indicative of the creativity teachers and staff in the district bring to their jobs every day.

"They're constantly thinking and trying new things and making their spaces as exciting and student-friendly as possible," he said.