Ikea special education classroom shopping list

Oh, the money I could spend at Ikea!!! Here are just a few (and a few more) items I could use in my special needs classroom. My list got quite long so I divided it up into: work tasks & toys, classroom furniture and sensory equipment, and organisation and supplies.

Classroom furniture & Sensory equipment:

Work Tasks and Toys

Organisation and Supplies



Bargain finds – Sensory shopping list

Bargain Finds: Sensory Shopping List - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

I’d love to share the best sensory classroom finds that are cheap or even FREE! I suggest that you start collecting items, even if you don’t have an immediate plan for them.


Bargain Sensory Finds: Balloons - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

Balloons are easy to find in most bargain stores, with a wide variety of shapes, colours and sizes. I use balloons simply blown up to bounce around and throw in the air. Try blowing up the balloons to different pressures, leaving some very squishable. Add balloons to water play, to allow students to explore scientific concepts like: buoyancy, floating and sinking.

I have also made DIY sensory balloons, by filling them with rice, flour, and small beads.

***ALWAYS supervise students with balloons, as they can be a choking hazard.

‘Sensory’ mitts

Bargain Sensory Finds: Mitts - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

These ‘Super Mitts’ were 2 EURO in the bargain store. You can find these in the cleaning section, otherwise look for bath mitts in the personal care sections. Look for different fabrics, textures and colours.

My sensory seeking students, who love feeling textures, love wearing them. One particular student rubs her hands when she becpmes anxious, to the point of creating friction burns. She loves the feeling of wearing these mitts, and they provide a distraction from rubbing her hands. The staff also wear them during the student’s sensory massages.

Fabric Samples

Bargain Sensory Finds: Fabric Samples - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

I got 5 lots of these fabric samples FREE from Harvey Norman. They offered me many more, but these things are heavy, so take care carrying them. They are easy to separate the fabric by undoing the screws that are holding them all together. I use these often in my sensory stories, and as texture squares on my sensory wall.

Cotton Wool Balls

Bargain Sensory Finds: Cotton Wool Balls - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

(Or as these are called: Cleansing Puffs). They are easy to find, and buy the cheapest brand available! This pack of 300 was 1 EURO from the bargain store.

Great for sensory bins, art and craft, pulling apart, dyeing different colours with powered colour dye. Try adding cotton wool balls to water play. Otherwise spray cotton wool balls with a scent or flavour for your smelling station.

Cheap lights

Bargain Sensory Finds: Lights - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

Start collecting cheap lights – these are push button led battery powered lights. But I also have twinkly string lights, and toys with coloured flashing lights. Don’t forget to browse the after Christmas sales.

Lights can be either soothing or stimulating to students with Sensory needs, depending on the light, colour and student. They are great to use in your cardboard box wonderlands. Try covering the lights with coloured cellophane for different colours. I use the push button lights in my sensory stories, to encourage students to participate (also, it ticks off the ’cause / effect’ concept too!).


Bargain Sensory Finds: Leaves - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

Don’t forget to use what nature can provide us. During Autumn I get my students to help me collect lots of different Autumn coloured leaves. I use them for art and craft, and as a sensory bin filler.

Bath Scrunchies

Bargain Sensory Finds: Bath Scrunchies - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

This net of 5 colourful bath scrunchies were 3 EURO from the supermarket. I find bath scrunchies are a great alternative to hard balls, especially for my students who have poor impulse control and throw balls at staff, students or the classroom. Even if bath scrunchies are thrown, they will do very little damage.

I spray different colours with different scents for a smelling station. I also use these in my colour exploration collections.

Sponges / Foam

Bargain Sensory Finds: Coloured Sponges - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

These sponges were cheap (2EURO) and I bought them in the house & hardware store. They are colourful, and have texture. Perfect! Use sponges in water play, the squeezing action is also a great hand strengthening activity. Otherwise I use them in my sensory stories, colour exploration, art and craft.


Bargain Sensory Finds: Scarves - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

I searched the second hand clothing stores to start my scarf collection. Use them in sensory stories, dress up play box, colour exploration.

See through scarves are ideal, because you can layer them together to create new and interesting colours.


Bargain Sensory Finds: Water bottles - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

I collect empty clear bottles. These can be recycled and turned into DIY sensory bottles or musical shakers.





Teaching colours: Ideas for special needs classrooms

Teaching Colours: Ideas for Special Needs Classrooms - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

Need some ideas to help teach colours to students with special needs? Here are a few I use in my ASD classroom:

Plan and Focus

Month by month themes for a special needs classroom - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.comFirstly, I plan out what colours I am planning to teach and when I am going to teach them. I planned for a colour a month (sometimes two). You may want to focus on a colour a week or fortnight. I liked to co-ordinate my colour focus with events (red and green – Christmas, orange and black – halloween) or with themes (blue – oceans, brown – teddy bears). Check out my post here for my yearly plans examples.

Colour exploration box

Ideas for teaching colour: Colour collections -thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com Start collecting a range of items in block colours for the students to explore. Make sure you have items that engage the senses:

  • sight
  • sound
  • touch
  • smell
  • taste

Ideas for teaching colour: White Colour collections -thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com They can be everyday items, that you will find around your home or classroom – toys, clothes, books, materials, even food. Group the items by colour, and only allow the student to explore one colour at a time (I would suggest a colour a week, fortnight, or month). If you have enough items, change the items to keep the students interested, but keep the colour focus the same.

Colour songs

My students loved watching music videos on the whiteboard, so I compiled a colours playlist on YouTube. Check it out here.

There are so many videos and songs available, find which ones work for your students.

Wear it!

I loved seeing my student’s reactions when I would wear a bright coloured t-shirt to school. Some of my students noticed more than others, but, it was still great to bring their attention to the colour. Try collecting t-shirt, socks, hats, and scarves in a range of colours. Your students may even want to dress up in colours.

Work Tasks

Include colour sorting and matching as work tasks during independent work or 1-1 work.


Don’t forget books focussing on colours and shapes for our visual learners. You may want to create your own colour books using photos of items the students are familiar with (their toys, clothes, household / school items).

Follow The Handy’s board school theme: colours on Pinterest.


75 Special Education Interview Questions

75 Special Education Interview Questions: thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.comGeneral

  1. Tell us about yourself.
  2. Tell us about a life experience and what you learned from it?
  3. Tell us about your teaching experience so far.
  4. What has been your greatest achievement?
  5. Why did you become a teacher? What kind of teacher are you?
  6. How have you changed as a teacher since you qualified?
  7. What does your ideal classroom look like?
  8. Why did you apply to this school?
  9. Are there any special skills or interests you can contribute?
  10. What can you bring to this school? Why should we choose you?
  11. What extra-curricular activities have you participated in? Or what would you like to get involved with?
  12. What challenges would you face working at this school? What support system do you have?
  13. What do you do to relax, maintain good mental health?
  14. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Special Needs

  1. Why do you want to work with Special Needs learners?
  2. What experience do you have working with special needs and general learning difficulties?
  3. What role do you see the SNA’s, teaching assistants, external professionals, parents having in your classroom?
  4. Have you developed an IEP (Individual Education Plan)? How? What is it?
  5. Give an example of how you have allowed students with a disability to be successfully included.
  6. What qualities do you see as being important in a special needs teacher?
  7. What teaching and learning strategies have you found particularly successful for special needs students?
  8. What are the learning priorities of the students in our school?
  9. There are many different views on integration of special needs into mainstream. What are your views and opinions on this?

Curriculum Planning and Assessment

  1. What are your favourite subjects to teach? Why?
  2. What is your favourite level / grade of students? Why?
  3. What does your planning look like? What documents? How often?
  4. What are the most important elements of planning?
  5. What does ‘Integrated curriculum’ mean to you?
  6. Tell us about how you teach Literacy in your classroom.
  7. Tell us about how you teach Numeracy in your classroom.
  8. How do you plan for differentiation in the classroom?
  9. How do you see assessment (formal / informal) and record keeping in a special needs classroom?
  10. What experience do you have planning and carrying out excursions, school outings or school tours?
  11. Tell us about your most successful lesson, project or teaching experience.
  12. Tell us about a lesson, project or teaching experience that went wrong despite careful planning etc..?

Parents, Colleagues, Community

  1. What role does the principal have in your classroom?
  2. Do you have any fundraising ideas for the school?
  3. How do you encourage open communication with parents?
  4. What involvement do you see parents having in your classroom and this school?
  5. Tell us about an experience dealing with a ‘difficult’ parent.
  6. What would you consider the role of the Parents Association within the school community?
  7. How would you deal with conflict with another staff member?
  8. What are the positives of working with a large number of staff?
  9. What do children & teachers learn from the Green Schools project (or other school specific initiatives)?
  10. What experiences have you had team-teaching, or working collaboratively with other teachers?
  11. There are times when you need to organise a meeting with parents and professionals together to address a student’s needs (Multi-disciplinary meeting). What would your role be at a MD meeting?

ICT – Information Computer Technology

  1. How do you see the use of ICT in your classroom?
  2. What experience do you have with ICT?


  1. What did you learn from the ‘Certificate in Religious Education’ course?
  2. Do you think the Catholic church has a place in Irish education and if so, how can this be put into day-to-day practice?
  3. How do you plan for and teach religion in the classroom?
  4. How do you implement the Alive-O curriculum?
  5. How would you promote the Catholic Ethos of the school?
  6. What experience do you have of preparing children for one of the Sacraments/Penance and First Communion?
 Would you feel confident taking on a role of preparing a class for first holy communion?
  7. How do you feel about teaching religion and do you have any problems teaching all areas of the religious curriculum?
  8. Not all students who attend our school are Catholic, and some parents request for their child to be withdrawn from religion class. How would you deal with these parents and manage this in the classroom?

Behaviour Management

  1. Tell us about a time you have experienced challenging behaviour and how you dealt with it.
  2. What are your views on discipline?
  3. What does your behaviour management look like?
  4. How might you manage an aggressive child?
  5. How might you manage a child having a meltdown?
  6. How might you manage a self-injurious child?
  7. What challenges can you see working in a special needs school in regards to behaviours?
  8. Tell us about an experience you have had dealing with ‘bullying’ in the classroom.
  9. How might you approach parents about a child’s behaviour?
  10. How do you motivate and engage students that find work challenging?

Child Protection

  1. What do you see as the most important aspect of caring for students?
  2. Are you familiar with the child protection guidelines for national schools?
  3. What would you do if you suspected a child was being neglected / abused?

Professional Development

  1. What are your priorities or areas of need?
  2. How do you propose growing as a teacher?
  3. Give an example of when you have identified an area of weakness, and what you did to address it.


  1. Do you have any questions?
  2. Are there any question we haven’t asked that you would have liked us to?
  3. Is there anything we haven’t covered or isn’t in your CV that would convince us to select you?

Tips for answering these questions:

# Answer with a short story or experience. To give your story or experience structure, remember: SAO. Situation, Action, Outcome.

Situation – what was the problem, class context, or challenge.
Action – What did you do to address it.
Outcome – What was the outcome? Was it successful? What would you do differently next time. What did you learn?

# Talk about articles you have read, or conferences / speeches you have heard. Bring in any Professional Development you have attended and how you applied it.

# Special Needs is often a hot topic in the media. This may be appropriate to bring into some answers, however, don’t over do it, or lose focus of the question asked.

# A Professional Teaching Portfolio (PTP) is a collection of evidence of your teaching experiences. It is designed to help you share your stories and experiences, and provide evidence (photo’s, work samples, planning documents etc.). It is now expected in Australia that every teacher has an up-to-date PTP, and brings it to their interviews. I will go into further detail of PTP’s in a later post.


Please share any questions that you have been asked in your teaching interviews. I would love to add them to this list. : )

Best of luck!

Little pieces of wisdom…

Little pieces of wisdom: 'Every student can learn. Just not on the same day, or in the same way - George Evans. Thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

As the school year draws to an end on this side of the world, I am looking back on my first year as a Special Needs Teacher. I have so many fantastic memories of my students learning and overcoming challenges, and it’s nice to think I had a little to do with that. : )

To my fellow teachers who are half way through the year: stay positive, know that you ARE making a difference to the lives of your students and keep these words of wisdom close.

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Taste-safe Sensory Exploration

This became a big issue in my ASD classroom with many of my students struggling with PICA and poor impulse control. Many of the sensory tubs suggested by colleagues, simply weren’t suitable. I had to remove the indoor sandplay tray, because I had students eating handfuls of sand.
I wanted to provide my students with lots of sensory play, since my students relied on their senses to explore their environment, and make sense of the world and engage in tasks.Taste-safe sensory materials - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com


Therefore, I have created a list of taste-safe messy play materials, and alternatives to many inedible sensory exploration materials. The great thing about sensory play is that your imagination is the limit! Mix together a few of the materials or add colour!

Taste-safe sensory exploration: milk bubbles - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

Plain milk can be a great sensory liquid because you can blow detergent-free bubbles in it! My students with limited impulse control often drank the water with detergent rather than blow bubbles into it – taste-safe alternative Milk!! Note: if you add food colouring into the milk, bubbles do not form as easily, and do not last as long.

Taste-safe alternative to: bubble mixture, water and soap / detergent

Themes – Colours, Weather – clouds, Farms – cows and milk.

Taste-safe sensory exploration: oats - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

Oats are a great sensory material because they have a natural scent and are so versatile. You can add spices for extra smells, or dye them any colour. For instructions on dying oats, ‘andnextcomesl‘ provides clear steps and great pics!

Taste-safe alternative to: sand, shells

Themes – Colours, Farms, Nursery rhymes (Goldilocks and the 3 bears), Summer (alternative to beach sand).

Taste-safe sensory exploration: popcorn - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

Popcorn both popped and unpopped (corn kernels) are cheap and found easily in most supermarkets. Get the kids involved in popping the corn kernels – this is a true sensory experience as the kids watch, listen and smell as the kernels change!

Taste-safe alternative to: cotton balls, sand, pebbles.

Themes – Colours (rainbow popcorn), Weather – clouds, Farm (corn kernels), in the community (movie theatre)

Taste-safe sensory exploration: pasta - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

Pasta is such a versatile sensory material. It can be used raw or cooked. If you want to dye the pasta, Happyhooligans have easy to follow steps, that doesn’t use rubbing alcohol. Mix up the shapes and types of pasta, and it could be extended to a sorting activity.

Taste-safe alternative to: beads, plastic shapes, shells.

Themes – Colours, Food (comparing cooked and raw), Shapes.


Cheerios or any hoop cereals (Fruit Loops) are a great material to incorporate some fine motor beading skills and patterning.

Taste-safe alternative to: beads, plastic shapes

Themes: Colours, Food, Shapes – circles.

Taste-safe sensory exploration: jelly - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

Jelly has to be one of the best messy play materials. It is a fascinating material as it moves and wobbles, light passes through the colourful shapes, and it tastes and smells so good! Again, don’t let the kids miss the opportunity to help you make it, the hardest part is asking them to wait patiently as the jelly sets.

Taste-safe alternative to: inedible slime recipes, water beads.

Themes – Colours, Food, Under the sea / Oceans (blue jelly), Monsters (green jelly slime).

Taste-safe sensory exploration: Tapioca - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

Tapioca was my go to ingredient when I needed an alternative to water beads. They are super easy to cook up. Simply pour a handful of the beads into a pot of boiling water. Continue to stir until the beads are clear. Then drain the excess water and rinse under cold water. To colour, you can either add the food colouring to the boiling water, or once the beads have been strained and rinsed. Give the tapioca time to absorb the colour if adding after cooking, then rinse off any excess colouring.

I have used small tapioca pearls (often found in the dessert / pudding section of the supermarket), however, large tapioca pearls are often available in oriental food stores.

Taste-safe alternative to: Water beads

Taste-safe sensory exploration: milk - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

Milk can be a great material to play and create with colour. I used food colouring, and the kids were fascinated by the marbling effects they could create.

To expand on this marbling effect, try adding a drop of detergent to see how the dye mixes and changes. This YouTube video shows the effect quite nicely – https://youtu.be/rqQSlEViNpk .

Taste-safe alternative to: marbling inks

Themes – Colours, Food,

Taste-safe sensory exploration: spaghetti - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

Spaghetti seems to be a favourite sensory material for my kids. I think its the movement and feeling of the spaghetti slipping through their fingers. It can also be used raw or cooked. You can dye the spaghetti almost any colour you want.

Taste-safe alternative to: string, wool, ribbons.

Themes – Colours, Food (comparing cooked and raw)

Taste-safe sensory exploration: ice cubes - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

Adding ice cubes to water play can provide an extra sensory experience. Kids can explore mathematical and science concepts including temperature, floating and sinking, melting from solid to liquid, and capacity.

Taste-safe alternative to: water beads, stones.

Themes – Colour, Winter, Weather, Under the Sea


Whipped cream can provide a real 3D aspect to sensory play. Depending on your student’s abilities, they may be able to assist with whipping the cream with a hand beater, or whisk. Add a few different colours and some paintbrushes, and let your kids paint away!

Taste-safe alternative to: shaving cream and foam, slime.

Themes – Colours, Weather – snow / clouds, Food

Taste-safe sensory exploration: coco pops - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

Coco pops or any ‘chocolate’ flavoured cereal can be a great alternative to dirt, soil, or pebbles. When it is used dry it has a great crunchy texture, and when mixed with water it makes great pretend ‘mud’ (as the brown colouring mixes into the water).

Taste-safe alternative to: dirt, soil, pebbles, mud.

Themes – Colours, Food (cereals), Plants (soil, dirt, mud alternative), Animals (add pigs or farm animals to play in the mud).

Taste-safe sensory exploration: rice - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

One of the most used sensory bin fillers – due to it being so cheap, easy to use and easy to tidy. Don’t forget add some colour! Again – Happyhooligans provide super instructions on dying rice. When you add water, most of the rice will sink to the bottom, and can therefore be used as a great ‘ocean floor’.

Taste-safe alternative to: dirt, soil, pebbles, sand, rocks, plastic beads, confetti.

Themes-  Outer space (black), Night sky (black), Colours (rainbow), Summer (yellow), Beach (yellow), Under the sea / ocean (yellow or blue), soil (brown).  Taste-safe sensory exploration: ice cubes - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

Ice cubes can be a great summer sensory experience because the kids can experience the cold temperature, and observe as the ice cube melts from solid to liquid. By adding food colouring to the cubes kids can play with the mixing of colours as they melt, or lay down plain fabric and allow kids to paint with ice cubes.

Taste-safe alternative to: paint cubes,

Themes – Colour, Summer, Food, Weather – rainbows

Taste-safe sensory exploration: water - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.comWater is a great sensory material for kids to explore with. Try expanding students experiences by adding a few drops of food colouring, changing temperature (warm and cold water), providing a range of toys, objects and materials students can add to the water.

Themes – Colours, Under the Sea, Transport (boats, submarines, ferries), Animals (fish).


I am obsessed with finding new and interesting sensory materials and activities. Best place for ideas – Pinterest of course! Check out my taste-safe sensory activities board here.

A day in my Special Needs classroom

Okay, so you have won the rewarding position of a special needs teacher! Congrats! Now, the panic starts to set in and you’re thinking – what do I do with these students for 6 hours a day!
Unlike a mainstream classroom my day isn’t broken into hourly blocks of Science, Geography, Health and Maths. The key is curriculum integration into real life contexts and independent living skills.

So here’s a list of the activities I run in my classroom.

  • Arrival / Departure routine
  • Individual workstations – based on TEACCH program
  • Circle time – integration of literacy and numeracy (also known as morning meeting)
  • Intensive interaction – usually spontaneous, and done during other activities
  • Snack (morning and afternoon)
  • Dinner / Lunch
  • Walks (scenic walks around grounds, or delivering messages)
  • Toileting / hygiene / general care
  • Sensory stories / adapted stories
  • IWB, computer, IPad time
  • Soft play
  • Swimming
  • P.E
  • Snoezelen / Multi-Sensory Environments
  • Music session
  • Sensory Massage – Occupational Therapy
  • Guided / Structured play – AISTEAR
    • Sensory exploration – messy play
    • Socio dramatic play – pretend play
    • Creative construction
    • Games with rules
  • Cooking
  • Gardening
  • Outdoor play

Below is my timetable, which clearly won’t suit everyone’s classroom, but may provide you with a little clarity. My students have ASD and Moderate – Severe general learning difficulties, therefore, transitions took time, and were scheduled for. Each day’s routine was very similar, consistent routines were key to my student’s managing transitions. Not all activities listed above are scheduled for every week (cooking / gardening), they are scheduled into the day when appropriate.

Timetable of my special needs classroom - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

My school was fortunate enough to have fantastic resources like the Snoezelen, soft play, and multi-sensory rooms.

Snoezelen – Multi-Sensory Environment:

Is an environment that provides a range of sensory stimulation. The resources required are usually very specific to the ‘Snoezelen company’.

Our Snoezelen room with a bubble tube.
Our Snoezelen room with a bubble tube.

Possible features:

  • Music
  • Projectors
  • Disco ball
  • Light machines mounted on the walls
  • Bubble tube
  • Mirrors
  • A range of comfortable surfaces, seats and materials.

Teaching Opportunities:

This room provides a great opportunity for quiet relaxation time without social interaction (which can be an overwhelming or difficult activity for many students with ASD), or sensory massages.

Courtesy of Snoezeleninfo.com

Soft Play room:

The soft play room has a Gross motor focus and can provide a proprioceptive input.Soft Play room with bouncy castle

Common features are – bouncy castle, trampoline, swing, ball pits, slides, gym balls, padded floors, steps and ladders, climbing frame.

Teaching opportunities:

This room can be a great place for intensive interaction, games and turn taking – ring-around the rosie, hide and seek, follow the leader.

Themes for a Special Needs Classroom

I love teaching and planning with themes. It can bring a focus and motivation to the students learning and result in great cross-curricular integration.

As a new special needs teacher working with students with Moderate and Severe General Learning Disabilities, I suddenly found my previous classroom themes no longer useful and relevant to my students. For example, my students would not be able to engage with more abstract concepts like pirates, outer space, Olympics and dinosaurs. However, each class is different with unique students with a range of interests, and you may find some students who can engage with those more abstract themes. I kept my classroom themes and topics very basic and tangible, and if a student had a special interest I would work it into the theme (Pigs – if they enjoy Peppa Pig, Transport – if they enjoy Thomas the Tank Engine).

Themes for a Special Needs Classroom - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com

I also tend to arrange my themes around the calendar and work with seasons and important dates. Below are month by month themes for a special needs classroom, arranged in the Northern hemisphere school year: Sep – August (Ireland, UK) and then the Southern hemisphere school year: Jan – Dec (Australia).

Month by month themes for the special needs classroom - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com
September – August calendar themes
Month by month themes for a special needs classroom - thehandyhedgehog.wordpress.com
January – December calendar themes