In my last article, I did a little myth busting around the phenomena that is multisensory rooms. Our understanding of the benefits of multisensory rooms is very skewed by the influence of advertising, many an unverified promise is made about the powers of the rooms. Pushing aside all the propaganda, each one of us knows that there is something in it, children adore a multisensory room. Perhaps you have a budget of thousands and thousands of pounds and can afford to install a room. If not, don’t worry!
If planning a multisensory room, be sure to research what aspect of the room will be beneficial to the children you support. Do not simply pick resources out of a catalogue or accept a room designed for you by people who have not met the children you support. Multisensory rooms should be designed around the people who will be using them.
If you haven’t got a pocket full of money, fear not, alternative sensory spaces might not look as impressive but they can be just as magic, if not more so, than the super-expensive, sensory rooms.
Recently I completed an 18-month research study that looked into the use of multisensory rooms in the UK currently. As part of this study, I asked practitioners to identify what aspects of their multisensory rooms gave them their power. Together, we identified 12 features of effective multisensory rooms; many of these features can be replicated in improvised spaces for a fraction of the budget.
Two of those features identified as being critical to the effectiveness of people’s multisensory rooms in my research, were darkness and control.
Darkness – participants in my research sited the ability to achieve blackout in a multisensory room as underpinning much of the focus and attention and calming responses they saw within their multisensory room.
Control – the fact that multisensory room users were able to control the sensory experiences they experienced in a multisensory room themselves, was cited by participants in my research as being critical to the success of the rooms. Control does not have to be a high-tech thing. Control can come from amazing remote-controlled effects, electronic buttons, or it can come simply from holding a torch oneself or from banging on the space blanket and changing the way it looks and sounds for oneself.
During my research, I began collecting examples of alternative sensory spaces and I have been keeping an archive of some of the more fantastic ones (including one made entirely out of old milk bottles!) in this photo album: bit.ly/JG-sensory-album.
Here are three examples of improvised sensory environments that you could set up which would enable people in your setting to experience control and to have their focus supported by reduced lighting.
A pop-up tent
Throw a blanket over the tent if it is not a dark colour, to create a dark space. Be careful not to let it get too stuffy; have air vents.
Black out the room
Buy blackout curtains or Magic Blackout to stick on the windows and black out a whole room.
Quickly overcome any superstitions you may have about putting up an umbrella indoors and pop one open; its canopy can be a small hideaway. Dangle things of sensory interest from its prongs and you have a little sensory world you can explore.
Add into these environments objects that fluoresce in UV light and a UV pen torch – these can be purchased for under £5 - and you will have created immersive, sensory worlds that support visual attention and curiosity.
Now you’re started on your adventures with improvised sensory spaces, do not hold back…perhaps you could create an autumn-themed umbrella, perhaps you could put the sounds of a forest into your tent together with some exotic fruits to taste. What about using a UV banknote pen to draw a pattern on your face to be revealed in the blackout of the room when you switch your UV torch on! The possibilities and sensory adventures are endless and do not need to be expensive!
Readers curious to know more may be interested in Joanna’s book: Multiple Multisensory Rooms: Myth Busting the Magic published by Routledge: bit.ly/JG-myth-busting
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 neurodivergent conditions and time spent as a registered foster carer for children with profound disabilities.
Joanna has published four practitioner books: "Multiple Multisensory Rooms: Myth Busting the Magic", “Sensory Stories for Children and Teens”, “Sensory-Being for Sensory Beings” and “Sharing Sensory Stories and Conversations with People with Dementia”. and two inclusive sensory story children’s books: “Voyage to Arghan” and “Ernest and I”.
Joanna is a big fan of social media and is always happy to connect with people via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.