Modular Sensory Board for the Children of WISH Charter Elementary School (Loyola Marymount University)

Keenan Sullivan, Steven Burke, Jennifer Ching


The modular sensory board is a device used to reward young students in elementary school for effectively completing their work in a timely and responsible manner. Some children have difficulty developing their senses during early childhood. Because of this, we have determined that this board be specifically geared towards those children. Sensory delays can be solved by allowing a child to control the environment in which they experience objects which stimulate their underdeveloped sense[1]. The modular board provides a way for kids to experience certain materials, and then have them replaced by the teacher. Children with a heavy reliance on a specific sensory input find a heightened sense of satisfaction when stimulating that sense. Therefore, this board should also be highly beneficial to those who tend to  predominantly rely on their sense of touch. The board can be transported in between classrooms and the active materials can easily be replaced and reoriented by the teachers in order to create a constantly varying product for the children.


WISH Charter Elementary School is a free public charter school that promotes the integration of students with disabilities. Our research group has created a partnership with WISH Charter Elementary School so that engineering students may create devices for the children at the school. Our group has taken multiple projects which we are currently working with the school to complete and improve, and we plan to expand this partnership into an ongoing effort to increase interest and awareness in our school and the immediate area.

Problem Statement

Ms. Caty, one of the teachers at WISH Charter, introduced us to a problem with a student that was constantly banging on his desk and causing disturbances in the classroom. She explained that he gained a great deal of happiness through the action. Ms. Caty came to us with the hope of taking his enthusiasm for physical stimuli, and using it to encourage him to behave more appropriately in class. This ultimately lead to the idea of rewarding better work with time to play with a modular sensory board, which houses multiple materials to interact with. We see the child as being highly susceptible to the sense of touch, and seek to help him become more productive by embracing this interest. By keeping track of the frequency and methods of use of this sensory board, we can compare the habits of this child to the other children to make better judgement of his motive and reasoning, leading to more efficient and effective products. We also hope to determine if the modular sensory board is an adequate reward system for rest of the students in the classroom.

Design & Development

Since our client was an elementary school, we needed to keep in mind that this design would need to be attractive to the eye and feature no visual industrial elements. It also needed to be easily portable for the teachers and securable to prevent unintended use by the students. The first iteration was planned to be designed out of wood in an effort to minimize price. Various types of wood were cut and


Figure 1, Steven Burke sands wood  to specific dimensions

sanded down to specific dimensions and finishes. The first model was an upright, house-shaped structure containing spaces for 20 material inserts, with wheels included to ease mobility.The top of the device would include two surfaces where materials could be propped up for easier access. This concept was well equipped to meet the needs of the project, however, it was decided that the team should focus on producing a more simple  and feasible design in order to advance more quickly to the testing and feedback phase.

Once it was decided to scale down the project, a new model had to be designed.The team utilized one of the angled pieces that would have rested at the top of the original concept as a basis for the first iteration. This new design included a housing fit for three material inserts with an overlapping frame to hold the inserts safely in place. The frame was attached to the housing using three hinges, allowing easy access to the material inserts. This first iteration sensory board incorporated a very simple locking mechanism. Each of the shorter sides had slots on both the frame and the housing to include a lock, making the materials inaccessible to the children that would be playing with it. Most of the materials were soft to touch and only incorporated tactile feedback.

Figure 2, Complete first iteration                                               Figure 3, Rendering of Sensory Board  of Sensory Board on SolidWorks


Figure 4, Batting material                                                                                  Figure 5, Close up of Sensory Board

Future materials will feature customization through the use of velcro, a surface to hit such as a makeshift basketball surface, and additional haptic feedback through the use of either springs or a vibrating motor. The current materials have a multi layer section of batting underneath them in order to soften the surface in case any of the children become more forceful with the materials. The total cost of this device, including the 5 materials used for the initial design, came out to be around $140.

Evaluation & Results

The modular sensory board was recently taken to WISH Charter Elementary School for preliminary testing. The sensory board was tested with several students aged ranging from 6 to 11. The sensory board was well received by the children and teachers alike. One particular child, Louis, had a very positive response when using the sensory board. He has a lot of trouble focusing and honing in on one activity but he clearly benefitted from the use of the sensory board and even had suggestions for future materials to include. Further testing and feedback is necessary to fully assess the effectiveness of the project but the preliminary results are positive thus far.

Discussion and Conclusions

The modular sensory board has returned positive results from the children that have used it and the teachers that have monitored and handled the product. However, it is too early to tell whether it has effectively served its purpose as a reward system for the child that has trouble focusing in class due to his strong inclination to hit his desk and cause other disturbances. Testing of the product will continue with various students to assess the effectiveness across different grade levels and learning capabilities.Also, different material inserts will continue to be drafted to allow for variety and assure that the children won’t grow tired of the sensory board.


Special thanks to WISH Charter Elementary School, Ms. Caty Solone, Mr. Steve Brostowitz, Smart Grass USA©, and to our advisor and counselor Dr. Matthew Siniawski for his support and guidance throughout this project.


[1]. “Meeting Learning Challenges: Working With Children Who Have Developmental Delays |” Scholastic Teachers. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.

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