One of the key reasons humans have succeeded in such a spectacular way is because we have the ability to pass on large amounts of complex knowledge and ideas to successive generations, effectively snowballing human progress. Nothing has a greater impact on the future of humanity than the way current generations pass the baton to future generations in the classroom. With 131.4 million people born each year, small changes in the education system have an exponential impact on the future of mankind, and a lot more rapidly than it may seem at first.
Often left behind by the education system, special needs kids stand to gain a tremendous amount from an improved education system. With the proper support to develop skills and self-reliance, special needs children can not only hold a high functioning role in society, but often times use their unique talents to significantly outperform the general population in the specific roles.
The technological explosion that we have experienced and continue to experience has opened up numerous untapped opportunities to better serve our future generations. What areas can be improved upon in education? What core skills do we need to focus on developing? To answer these questions I connected with Aviva Weiss, the CEO and Cofounder of Fun & Function, a company that provides a wide variety of solutions for providing an effective education, particularly for special needs students.
Where are the largest shortcomings in today’s classroom environment?
One of the main challenges that we see in the classroom today is that there continues to be a one-size-fits-all approach in mainstreamed education. The only way for students to get individualized instruction is through the institution of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), which is generally put into place when it becomes clear that the general instruction provided by the teacher is not appropriate for the needs of a certain student. Teams of professionals (psychologists, therapists, administrators etc.) as well as parents are convened to design an IEP, a learning plan that will meet the various needs of the student.
As more children with special needs and learning challenges are being moved into mainstreamed classrooms, the complications that come along with managing IEPs are becoming harder to manage.
IEPs are able to address some of the individual needs of students, but there is additional complexity added to the educational system when this mechanism, originally intended to address only a few students with differentiated needs, is being used to manage 9-18% of the kids in any given classroom. There are financial implications as well as administrative challenges for teachers who are trying to managing individualized programs for each child.
How could the current education model be improved to better serve children’s needs?
Fun and Function has been encouraging school districts to create infrastructure to address some of the most prevalent special needs, currently addressed through IEPs, with a broad and structured approach. We talk a lot about Response to Intervention (RTI), which is a federally mandated approach that provides tiered instruction and is commonly used in English and Math curriculum.
We are encouraging schools to apply these same principles to develop sensory-based behavioral RTI programs. For example, since up to 90% of students with Autism also experience sensory difficulties, instead of creating individualized programs for 9 out of 10 students in an ASD classroom, we propose that the teacher should be provided with sensory tools and targeted training to be able to address some of the sensory needs that he or she will undoubtedly encounter.
This approach extends beyond special needs classrooms and into the general school population by providing tools that can address the sensory needs of a broad range of kids, including those who have not been impacted enough to be placed on an IEP, but who can still benefit from sensory interventions like movement breaks, adaptive seating, or quiet spaces.
What core skills and tools should we be helping kids develop for a lifetime of success?
One of the key skills that we see for kids of all abilities is self-regulation. What we mean by that is the ability to be self-aware and realize what emotions are being experienced in the moment. When a child is experiencing anxiety, or stress, or exhaustion, we want them to have a safe place where they can put their energy, where they can sort their feelings out through physical activity and mindfulness. The ability to self-identify occasions where they need to find an
appropriate activity or behavior to manage their own experience.
How does Fun and Function help kids develop those skills? And what are “ChillSpas”?
We created our ActiveMind School Partnership program – which includes the Action Room and ChillSpa because we recognize that sitting in a traditional classroom all day is not fair for children, especially those with sensory issues and ADHD.
The vision for these resources is to have a separate room – an oasis – although in practice sometimes there is just a corner or area within the classroom. In this space there are options for those self-regulation activities where different sensory challenges can be addressed.
Included with the sensory tools and toys, we provide training for the teachers, and tools to help kids discover activities that will help them direct or refocus their energy so that they can be more successful when they return to the classroom.
Kids with an abundance of energy have a rock climbing wall. We have a swing that envelops you like a cocoon. For texture and feeling, we have a ball pit, where kids can lie and stretch out on the balls. We have a trampoline, a modified jungle gym with a slide and tunnels where kids can feel their proprioceptive balance stabilized. Most classes up through 5th grade have our Break Boxes in the classroom, a collection of different sensory tools to help prevent distraction and improve focus.
The ChillSpa area is a quiet space with low lighting, a bubble machine, swings, and other calming, relaxing activities. When children come out of the ChillSpa they look like they’ve been put into nirvana. These activities help reset their learning.
Many criticize the education system but few ever manage to make any changes. Why have others failed and how can we learn from that to improve our education system?
Education is an area of such critical importance for our future, and finding the optimal ways to integrate changes in technology and teaching philosophy in order to address increasingly diverse student needs is a pretty big puzzle to solve. It’s not that others have necessarily failed, but that we think there is a different way to look at how to help kids succeed in the classroom.
The biggest disconnect is the desire to find one solution to a system that needs to address the individual needs of so many. We see that the IEP approach isn’t sustainable when more and more children need individualized attention. Finding ways that interventions can be individualized without having to develop a completely separate plan for each child is, we think, one of the keys to improving outcomes.
What’s your vision of a classroom in 2026?
Our focus is on kids with special needs, so our vision is specific to the classroom experience for those children. We’d love to see more and more kids with special needs provided with the tools they need to manage their sensory needs, self-regulate their emotional status and energy requirements, and able to succeed in a mainstream classroom surrounded by their neurotypical classmates. Technology should be used to administer modified curriculum so that visual learners, kinesthetic learners, and verbal learners are all able to get what they need to thrive.