Having typed that title, staring at the blank page on my computer screen, I am rather worried about what to say next. Or, rather, how I would ever stop typing once I started. I have previously written a whole book on this topic and even that wasn’t enough – a further five are due out this year!
I am going to cut a long story short – more for my benefit than yours – and simply say:
Sensory stories are wonderful!
I desperately want to justify that with a long explanation of their impact on cognition, mental well- being, a child’s identity, connection, community, inclusion, ability to learn, concentration, communication and more…. but I am holding that all in. If you want to know, get in touch and then brace yourself for a tsunami-sized answer! What I will do here is simply explain what they are. The simplicity of them as a resource is deceptive. They are far, far more than a way to tell a story with sensory experiences.
Sensory stories are concise texts – typically a sensory story is less than ten sentences long. Don’t worry, you can get a lot into ten sentences! Personally, I have got the birth of a star in a stellar nursery into seven sentences, a retelling of Alice in Wonderland into ten and a romp through the world of Rockhopper Penguins into eight.
Each sentence of a sensory story is partnered with a rich and relevant sensory experience. You might be thinking that these experiences act like the pictures in a book or like the objects you might keep in a story sack to inspire interest, but in a really good sensory story they will go beyond that. The sensations will tell the story. You have heard the phrase “A picture speaks a thousand words”. Well, in a sensory story there are visual experiences not pictures, and sound experiences, and taste and touch and vestibular and proprioceptive and smell experiences and together these speak millions of words.
Part of the wonder of a sensory story is its lack of reliance on language. They are naturally inclusive of those who do not use language or who speak a language that is not our own. You can use them to support the kinds of sensory needs we have discussed through this series of blogs; they are particularly well suited to this as an addition to the benefits of structuring and repeating sensory experience. They also offer the benefits of the storytelling space. Research into this magical space tells us that inside a story we are braver, bolder, better able to cope and we feel more connected to others in the space. Stories are innately inclusive and the perfect vehicle for difficult topics.
So, to sum it all up, you can use a sensory story to tell a story in a sensory way and to support children with sensory needs. I could continue this list, but my last attempt here was four pages long and no doubt if I looked at it now I would have more to add.
Trust me, Sensory stories are wonderful!
You can find out more about sensory stories and even access a few free ones if you visit my website and follow the links. I am always happy to support people looking to share sensory stories, so do not be shy about getting in touch via social media or email here.
5 top tips to create your very own sensory story
To create a sensory story, start with the text. Often, writing your own is easier than distilling an existing text and means you can write a story about the people you will share it with which makes it even more interesting. You have 8-10 sentences to tell your whole story in, but you can get a lot into a small amount of space!
- Partner each sentence with a rich and relevant sensory experience
Doing this means that the sense being targeted will be drawn to the experience or filled by the experience, for example, neon colours draw our sense of vision to them; looking through coloured cellophane fills our vision. The relevance is how strongly the experience links to the part of the story that it is about. I always tell people to start with the story and problem-solve the experiences, in this way you end up with more interesting sensory adventures.
- Aim for consistency
When you tell the story, aim to be consistent: say it in the same way each time and facilitate the sensory experiences that accompany it in the same way. This enables people to feel safe and secure within the story, which in turn fosters more responsiveness from them and promotes understanding and anticipation of the experiences and the story.
- Think about who you’re sharing the story with
Try not to add in extra words and take into account the sensory abilities and preferences of the people you are sharing the story with.
- Get organised
Make sure you have all the bits and bobs you need to tell the story ready to hand before you begin. There is nothing worse than getting to the moment when the star is born in the stellar nursery and discovering the batteries in the torch are dead!
- Finally: repeat, repeat, repeat
So much of the magic of sensory stories comes about through their repetition. You won’t get bored as, although you’ll be saying and doing the same thing, you’ll be revelling in the increased responses you get to the story each time you tell it.
Enjoy your sensory adventures together!
About the author
Joanna Grace is an international Sensory Engagement and Inclusion Specialist, Trainer, Author, TEDx speaker and Founder of The Sensory Projects.
Consistently rated as Outstanding by Ofsted, Joanna has taught in mainstream and special school settings, connecting with pupils of all ages and abilities. To inform her work, Joanna draws on her own experience from her private and professional life as well as taking in all the information she can from the research archives. Joanna’s private life includes family members with disabilities and neurodiverse conditions and time spent as a registered foster carer for children with profound disabilities.
Joanna’s books Sensory Stories for children and teens and Sensory-being for Sensory Beings sell globally. She has a further five books due for publication within the next two years, including four children’s books.