Recently, we’ve looked at sensory rooms; whether they are worth investing in, what works and what doesn’t, and exploring the options you have for enhancing the sensory experiences you can offer. In this article, we give you some advice on how to create your own DIY sensory spaces, be that a sensory board, a whole room, or something in between.

What should be included?

Sensory spaces should engage the senses – whether individual or multiple senses, and this is where they can get a little confusing. Some people will advocate spaces should be minimal, with items that you can introduce one at a time to avoid sensory overload; others will say that spaces should be engaging and visually stimulating. So, who’s right?

The answer lies with the first and most important question you should ask when you are setting up your space – what am I hoping to achieve, and how will it benefit the children? It’s a bit like trying to design a drinking vessel – you need to know what it will be used for before you set about designing a champagne glass or a tankard!

When you can answer this question, you’ll be able to properly research and implement your sensory corner so that it best meets the specific needs of the children you care for; be that a simple space to explore different sensations, a therapeutic space, or a functional space to help calm children with specific learning or behavioural issues. Only you will know what is right for your setting. There is no ‘one size fits all’ but if you put the children’s needs at the centre of your thinking, and you will have a much clearer path.

Touch

To create touch sensory items is relatively easy. It could be as simple as putting objects into cardboard boxes and getting the children to put their hands in, or a tactile wall, or board of different floor tiles. Think of things that give interesting sensations to the touch such as:

  • Liquids: water, slime, eggs, cooking oil, hand cream, shaving foam
  • Solids: different materials e.g. fur fabric, feathers, wool, silk, leather, plastic, wood, straw
  • Things that little hands can move: marbles, sand, mud, paint, pebbles, pine cones, leaves, moss, grass, twigs, hanging ribbons, blocks, fidget spinners or squeezy toys
  • Household objects such as yoghurt pots, tissues, cleaned-out cans, a nail brush, a shiny CD, colourful sponges, washing up scrubs
  • Reusable hand warmers to give a warming sensation
  • Flooring samples; carpets with different piles, wood, vinyl, tiles

Sight

Bubble tubes are lovely, and expensive but you can use simpler ideas to create similar visual effects. Try glow sticks or inexpensive lava lamps; create your own light tables using a low-voltage set of fairy lights in a clear plastic box and put coloured paper/acetate sheets on the top of the box to create different colours, or simply paint the inside of the box lid. 

There are also videos of lava lamps available on YouTube, and there are many interesting visual screensavers for PCs and tablets, which use dancing lights, lines or patterns to stimulate the visual sense, which can be very calming. 
Other ideas include:

  • Coloured lights – use material or paper over a torch to change the colour
  • Moving lights or Christmas lights that have changeable flashing patterns
  • Areas of light, shade and shadows from torches or lamps
  • Moving pictures – films, slides, videos
  • Simple projections like moving night lights

Sound

There are many ways to engage hearing, for example, you might use sounds that the children create themselves, or sounds that are pre-recorded which you play back to them. 

Equipment you might find useful here includes:

Blue tooth or wireless headsets

  • An iPad or other tablet to play music on
  • Percussion instruments such as: triangles, whistles, ringing bells, drums, cymbals, gongs, or chimes – these are great because the children can feel the vibrations too
  • You can also make your own shakers by cleaning out and reusing plastic bottles, cans  or cardboard boxes and filling them with different things that rattle
  • Online sounds such as relaxing instrumental music, white noise, nature sounds and meditationsRemember too that you can use your voice and explore that. 

Smell

Our olfactory sense (smell) is often underestimated, but aromatherapy practitioners would argue there are many benefits to engaging our sense of smell more often. However, you don’t need expensive aromatherapy machines, just use essential oils dabbed onto a cotton wool ball or piece of fabric. You can also add essential oils to homemade play-doughs or strips of cardboard/paper. Make sure you research the properties of the oils so you know their effects, and be aware of children in your setting who may be adversely affected by smells, such as some autistic children.

Proprioception, equilibrioception and balance

These senses are all about our sense of space, how we understand where we are within a space, how we balance, and how we stay upright. To help these, you could create a space which allows children to explore movement safely. This could be done by simply using gym mats, soft play items, or by giving children things to climb over or balance on. You could use some large cushions, beanbags or some duvets/pillows and allow children to roll over, under and in them. Or use swings, rocking chairs/horses, balance beams or a wooden plank or coloured lines to walk along on the floor.

One final word

It is not enough just to create a sensory space and feel you have done your bit, as it is the interaction between the child, the practitioner and the sensory experience that makes or breaks it. Make sure that once you have created your sensory space, you fully train your staff in how to get the best out of it, and then monitor and assess your results. That way, you can strive to improve the experiences you offer in line with best practice for teaching, learning and auditing.

Don’t be intimidated about creating sensory spaces – start with your objectives, do what you are comfortable with, and move on from there. And remember to send us your photos to marketing@parenta.com too.

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