Regular readers will probably have come to expect an article from me within Parenta’s pages, and may even have noticed my absence from the previous issue or two. Well, I have a good excuse: I was busy having a baby! My new “little assistant” at The Sensory Projects, joining his brother the “small assistant” who, at aged six now, is anything but small.
The little assistant is currently asleep, and the small one is happily occupied making paper uniforms for some wooden monkeys don’t ask! So I thought I would grab a few minutes to write about the sensory adventures we have been having. Forgive me if it is not as clearly presented as usual, I am a little sleep-addled:
The calming sound, a sound I make once every three hours at the moment. Why is it calming? Well, it reminds him of the time, only a matter of days ago when he was wrapped up safe in my womb and the amniotic fluids were whooshing around him. Our brains develop in the womb as well as after birth. The feelings of security we experienced before birth stay with us as sensory memories through life. White noise sounds (like the shhh sound, or the sound of a hairdryer, or the sea gently rolling the shingle of a beach) are calming for us all. You can get white noise apps on your phone or you can ball up lots of newspaper and get a group to pretend to be the sea rolling onto the shore as a part of a storytelling experience – ask them to swish their arms through the paper on cue to make the noise of the waves: swish, pause, swish, pause. Encourage them to breathe in on the pause, and slowly out to add to the swish. It is a very calming activity.
All wrapped up
Another sensation we all return to, which has its origins in the womb, is that of being curled up and wrapped up. If you’re having a rough time of things, do you hole up on the sofa, or wrap yourself up in bed? You may see children retreat to small corners, or hideaway if upset or worried. Children will also enjoy playing in small spaces when not distressed (good things do not have to be kept for times of trouble). I have a photo of my sister and myself each curled up into a cardboard box and happy as anything. Making dens is great fun, throw a blanket over a table and hide underneath, get a big box and climb inside, it’s easy. And within this fun is a feeling of safety and security. Brains that feel safe and secure learn quicker than brains that are concerned about what is going on.
Keep the beat
As he drifts off to sleep, I tap the flat of my palm rhythmically against the little assistant’s back or against his gigantic cloth nappy bottom. A short while ago he felt a similar rhythm as my heartbeat above him inside my body. I have not enough room here to explain what a fantastic sensory wonder keeping a beat is. It supports him in developing an understanding of time, it develops his communication skills, and it soothes and reassures him, and so much more. I once read that the ability to keep a beat in early childhood was more predictive of a child’s later literacy skills than even the literacy skills of their mother.
All the clapping games you play, support this development. Why not try some marching games? Make up call and response marching songs and have a stomp about the place together. If you cannot think of lyrics why not try the alphabet, it works well as call and response broken up into the following phrases: A B C D E F G (a b c d e f g) H I J K L M N (h I j k l m n) O P Q R S T U (o p q r s t u) V W X Y Z (v w x y z).
*My only warning with this one is to watch where you are going. As a supply teacher, I once marched a whole class of year one students off some steps chanting the alphabet in this way. I thought they would be watching where their feet went they were not! Three grazed knees later I had called “Company HALT!” to prevent further disaster.
Rock and roll
I rock the little assistant as he transitions from the confusing world of awakeness back into the peaceful land of nod. Try and sit down a moment too soon, and however asleep he looks, he will spring back into alertness and we must start again. The rocking is the memory of me walking when he was in the womb. We all rock at times when we are distressed and need to self-soothe.
If you have a child in your setting who needs to rock, resist the urge to tell them to stop. I was once advised by a senior teacher that if the child in my care rocked, I should place a reassuring hand on their shoulder and hold them still! Instead, look to make changes to the environment and the expectations upon them so that they do not have such a need to rock. You can also introduce rocking experiences to help children to calm down, swings are an obvious example, but things like hammocks that will cradle you as well are even better, or just simple games like sitting feet to feet with a partner and holding hands to rock back and forth together whilst singing “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream!”
It’s not all sleep of course, when the little assistant wakes we have been singing “Incy Wincy Spider”, adapted to be a massage story (inspired by the wonderful book “Once Upon a Touch”, by Mary Atkinson). He is just beginning to anticipate the sensations, take a peek at his responses here (and do feel free to pop me a friend request if you are interested in following more of our sensory adventures). If the little assistant/sleep thief permits, we may pop up in the next issue to talk about just how fantastic anticipation is for cognitive development.
To learn more about Story Massage, like their page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/StoryMassageProgramme
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.