What’s a Snoezelen? It’s a meditation room, therapy session and child’s playground all wrapped in one.
When Jan Hulsegge and Ad Verheul set up an experimental sensory tent at a weekend fair in the Netherlands in the late 1970s, they had no way of knowing that it would one day have a worldwide following. The two Dutch therapists created what is now known as Snoezelen therapy, a term that combines the Dutch verbs “snuffelen” (to seek and explore) and “doezelen” (to relax).
Pronounced “snooze-a-lin”, these multi-sensory therapeutic rooms can be found in clinics, schools, private homes, prisons and even airports around the world. (Changi – are you listening?) And their popularity is due to the fact that they have been shown to help people struggling with everything from learning disabilities and anxiety to autism, Alzheimer’s and dementia.
We found a Snoezelen room at Integrated International School (IIS); it’s the only international school in Singapore that has one. After moving to a larger campus last year, the school installed a one-of-a-kind Ocean Snoezelen room. Founding principal and CEO, DR VANESSA VON AUER, had long dreamt of creating a learning space to compel children’s imagination, creativity and sense of wonder.
“We chose an ocean theme because there is so much fascination and wonder when we think of the sea,” says Dr Vanessa. “We wanted to create a space that would provide a sense of calm yet encourage discovery as soon as you entered the room. Our school community also loves and respects animals and the environment, and we wanted a space to showcase our students’ passion for both.”
The Ocean room has mesmerising bubble tubes, interactive infinity panels, a colourful fibre optic “waterfall” and carpet, solar projector and tactile sealife toys plus soft textured flooring. The equipment, placement and colour scheme were researched carefully with child development and learning in mind.
IIS uses the room for yoga sessions, meditation and imaginative play as well as group therapy and a place to play at the end of the school day. Mums bring their toddlers and babies, and teachers venture in for creative inspiration when making lesson plans.
“For meditation or breathing exercises, we lower the volume of the background music and only use the solar projectors. During guided visualisation activities, students lie down and watch marine life float by on the ceiling,” says Mimi Syjuco, IIS’s school counsellor.
While the Snoezelen room is popular with everyone at IIS, the school is most excited about its effect on children with sensory processing issues.
“We are a very neuro-diverse school. Some of our students are sensitive to bright lights and loud sounds while others need more time to calm their anxieties,” says Mimi. “The Snoezelen room is a wonderful safe space for these students to process their feelings, redirect their attention and think up positive ways to handle conflict.”
Mimi tells the story of one particular student who struggles with restlessness and staying focused in class. “The first time he entered the Snoezelen room, he immediately slowed down his movements and speech. He stayed fully relaxed and still during the entire meditation exercise. Like many students, he has hugely benefitted from our unique environment and is now one of our mindfulness advocates at IIS!”
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