The Sciencenter's Quarterly Education Newsletter
Making Science Accessible for Every Child
Sensory Accessibility
“To put it simply, neurodiversity states that everybody on the planet has a different brain, and that’s OK.”
~Amethyst Schaber, Ask An Autistic #19: “What is Neurodiversity?” 

As informal educators, we embrace mess, loud exhibits, and learning through trying and failing and trying again. These approaches foster creativity, build confidence and make space for meaningful collaboration. However, for some people, such stimulating environments and open-ended activities can become be overwhelming. In order to make learning more accessible, we adapt our methods to best include and serve guests with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other sensory processing disorders.

At the Sciencenter, we’ve implemented a number of accessibility strategies:

  • We offer various online “Sensory Stories” to orient future guests prior to their visit. 
  • Our exhibits invite diverse modes of interaction and sensory input, including exhibits which feature many lights and/or noises, cater to the sense of touch, or require movement or other forms of physical play. These exhibits--as well as calmer spaces--are identified by special icons on our sitemaps.
  • Our field trips, summer camps and other facilitated experiences are designed so participants can explore at their own pace. We offer targeted support to campers and students who are having trouble focusing on an activity by offering to assist them, or by setting aside a quieter spot away from the larger group.
  • When giving instructions, we use repetitive phrasing to reinforce expectations. We craft clear rituals and routines and let participants know what’s coming next to make transitions easier.
  • Visual schedules, First/Then charts with images, and timers in order to further reinforce the anticipated sequence of tasks and activities.
  • At the front desk, guests can borrow a “Calming Kit” containing fidgets, noise-canceling headphones, sunglasses, a timer, and other supplies to use during their visit.
  • We set aside “Sensory Hours” on designated Sunday mornings when the museum is only open to families with self-identified special needs. During these hours, we are able to make additional accommodations, including a “Calm Room” filled with sensory supports and adjustments to light and noise levels.

These tools foster more accessible spaces and programs for all learners. They can be adapted to different settings and contexts in order to enhance safety, engagement, and opportunities for collaboration among neurodiverse groups of people.
Science for All Ages
 How children learn about the world around them
Early Explorers (ages 0 - 5)
Science Across Developmental Stages
Finding appropriate activities for a group of children who are at different developmental stages can be a challenge. Open-ended activities can be an incredibly effective way to approach such a dilemma. Open-ended activities are designed to be ambiguous—meaning that there is no right or wrong way to complete the activity. This allows for the activity to be interpreted by each child in a way that best suits their particular stage of development.

Consider mixing baking soda and vinegar as an example of an open-ended activity. Children can be encouraged to mix the two substances however they would like—there is no one way to do it. A child can put the vinegar in the baking soda or vice versa, use spoons, cups, eye droppers or any other method that may come to mind. Engaging with flubber or playdough is another type of open-ended activity. Providing a variety of tools and methods for the child to interact with the substance can allow for even further exploration.

You can find some great examples of open-ended activities on the following blogs: Tinkerlab, Lemon Lime Adventures, Creativity Catapult. Check our calendar to see which activities we choose
each week to make our Science Together program accessible for ages 0-5.
Young Scientists (ages 5 - 11)
Utilizing Universal Design Principles in Programming
There is no such thing as a “typical” child. This fact can feel daunting when developing programs for a group of elementary school-aged children, however, there are tools available to help you create experiences that are accessible to a wide variety of learners.
The National Informal STEM Education Network has developed a guide to Universal Design Principles to use when developing educational programs. Universal Design prioritizes users’ flexibility and choice, social inclusion, and physical access with respect to program materials and concepts. Some examples of these principles include providing ways to engage with the materials using multiple senses, verbally describing visual features, and repeating core concepts frequently throughout the program.
Try this! See the principles of Universal Design in action by trying an activity that was developed with the principles in mind, such as Exploring Properties - Surface Area .
Future Science Leaders (ages 11 - 14)
Group Based Projects to Foster Attendance Accessibility
When considering accessibility for middle school-aged children, it’s important to think about attendance flexibility. Due to the busy and fluctuating schedules of this age group and their families, attendance can create a major barrier to learning. Creating an educational program that incorporates group based projects with supporting group dynamics allows youth to attend programs that fit their schedule. In practice, you could start a project at a meeting, say developing a new hands-on activity, with a group of 4-5 students. You continue working on developing that activity for the following two to three meetings. With a flexible attendance approach, at each meeting, you will likely have a few new youths join the group as well as have others who are not able to come. The group that is working on developing the activity during that particular meeting are in charge of its destiny. Each student who works on the project has a say, tests out their ideas, and collaborates with others. It can be helpful to have 1-2 group members who are consistently present. However, when that is not possible, the program facilitator can update new members on the current status of the project.
A great way to support group based projects is to incorporate team building activities into programming. Team building activities support group collaboration and communication between students. Try out some of our favorite team building activities with your youth!
Interested youth in grades 6th-8th can join our Future Science Leaders program that kicks-off with a special event here at the Sciencenter on October 5th. Check out the program here and email for more information.
CESL Spotlight
Collaborative for Early Science Learning:
A Sciencenter-led partnership of museum professionals working with Head Start
Science museums across the country strive to make science accessible to their communities. One way that they are able to accomplish this is by partnering with their local Head Start organization. Head Start (HS) and Early Head Start (EHS) are federally funded preschool programs for children from underprivileged backgrounds. Reaching out and fostering a Head Start and Early Head Start partnership can make science accessible in a variety of ways. One way to make science accessible through such a partnership is by offering professional development workshops for HS and EHS teachers. This is a great way to help educators become more comfortable with science activities and therefore more confident teaching it in the classroom.
Assisting with the comfort level around science topics is just one way to help science become more accessible for teachers. Another way to take advantage of a Head Start partnership would be to offer family programming. Families are a child’s first teachers so including families in science learning is a great way to increase access to science.
CESL has put together a toolkit to help guide museums through starting partnerships with their local Head Start. This collection of resources also covers other accessibility topics. For more information check out our toolkit at
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