Ambitious & inclusive sensory stories

Ambitious & inclusive sensory stories

I wrote about the Wonders of a Sensory Story back in 2018 for Parenta and expressed in that article just how hard it is to even consider trying to articulate how fabulous sensory stories are in a single article. When I first encountered them, they transformed my teaching and made my practice so much more inclusive than it had been before. In this article I am going to give you a glimpse into how you can do even more with a sensory story, using them to increase access to new experiences and extend the impact of novel educational adventures.

Sensory stories are concise text, typically 8–10 sentences long, each sentence of the story is partnered with a rich and relevant sensory experience that supports engagement with the story and makes the story accessible to those unable to access it through the verbal narrative. I run a project called The Sensory Story Project and if you explore the webpage associated with that, you will find lots of free downloads that will help you in your sensory story practice.

How to use a sensory story to make an event more accessible

Consider the scenario of a school trip, perhaps you are visiting a farm, a swimming pool or a local church. For some children the differences between this environment and the one they are used to being in will inspire extra curiosity and attention. For other children, the differences between the known safe familiar environment and this new different place will cause stress and anxiety. Children are unlikely to be able to articulate feelings of discomfort or of being unsettled, even children who are brilliant linguists would struggle to describe feelings of unease.

Children distressed by an unfamiliar environment communicate that distress through their behaviour. For some, this behaviour will be obviously linked to distress, they might cry or refuse to enter a space. But for many others, their behaviour will be an attempt to counteract the feeling: a child who feels uneasy needs extra reassurance, one of the best ways to be reassured when you are a child is to know an adult is paying attention to you. Adults keep children safe. Children know that if the adult is noticing them, they will be safe. So you may see an increase in those annoying attention-grabbing behaviours that just seem silly and unnecessary. It helps to recognise that the child is seeking reassurance, rather than attention; at the very least it will save you from getting so frustrated!

"Focus on the sensory aspects of the experience: for example at a swimming pool you will smell the chemicals used to clean the pool, you might be asked to wear a rubber band against your wrist or ankle, you might see the steam from the showers and so on."

Create a sensory story that very clearly and accurately describes the experiences related to the new environment in the sequence they will be encountered. Focus on the sensory aspects of the experience: for example at a swimming pool you will smell the chemicals used to clean the pool, you might be asked to wear a rubber band against your wrist or ankle, you might see the steam from the showers and so on. Weave these experiences in order into your story and then share your story ahead of your visit. Tell it often so that the children get lots of practice at experiencing the sensations and can get excited for the visit ahead. When you get to the venue, it will not be so new and distressing but it will retain all of its excitement and interest.

How to use a sensory story to extend the impact of an event or activity

We have wonderful moments that happen in our settings, perhaps we all visit a petting zoo, or a dance troop visit us and share their fabulous skills with us. The novelty of these events makes them stand out in our memories, we should make the most of this impact and not restrict it to the day that it happens.

Creating a sensory story of an event or experience just takes a little bit of thought and prep work. You may need to make sure you have memory space clear on your phone so you can record sounds, or you may want to take some Tupperware with you for stashing smells in!

As the event unfolds, consider it in sensory story terms, what are the sounds, sights, smells, touches and tastes that define this event? Can you capture them?

Catch as many as you can and weave them into the story, then you will be able to retell the story and revisit the wonders of that special day.

Readers curious to know more may be interested in Joanna’s Ambitious and Inclusive Sensory Storytelling Course or her books:

Sensory Stories for Children and Teens with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities
Published by Jessica Kingsley

Voyage to Arghan - a sensory story

Ernest and I – a sensory story
Published by LDA resources

About the author

Joanna Grace

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.

Do we have unrealistic expectations of children?

Do we have unrealistic expectations of children?

We all want to instil positive values and behaviour in children. However, it’s important to remember that they are just little people trying to navigate a sometimes, unfamiliar world and we should not expect a level of perfection that we as adults don’t even adhere to ourselves. Children are constantly learning about themselves, about boundaries and limitations and about the world around them. Through this learning process, there will always be ups and downs because they don’t have all of the answers. Let’s face it, none of us do, do we?

This is why it is so important to model the behaviour that we want to see in children and to not hold them to a higher standard than we, as adults, could even live up to. We all have off days where we can feel agitated and snappy and days where we are not quite ourselves. Children do too, yet we can, at times, expect them to be on form at all times, forgetting that they too are people with changing emotions and moods.

If we were to treat children in the same way that we treat adults, would we do the things that we do?

If an adult was busy doing something that they were really focused on, would we walk up to them and close it down because we had decided that it was time to do something else? Or, would we let them know that we needed to move on to the next task and give them time to finish off what they are doing?
If someone was not being their usual self would we try to find out the reason why, or would we just judge their behaviour?
If a person asked you to pass them something with a polite and friendly tone, but without the word ‘please’ attached to it, would we refuse to give them what they were asking for, or deem them as being rude? Do we honestly say the word ‘please’ after every single request that we make?
If an adult made a mistake like knocking over their drink, would we get angry with them and punish them, or would we help them to clean it up and tell them not to worry as it was only an accident?
We have to ask how we would feel and react if we put ourselves in the shoes of children – if the answer is that we would get frustrated or feel annoyed, is there any wonder that children sometimes react the way that they do and go into meltdown?

Children learn from what they consistently see. If we want them to have nice manners, we need to have nice manners. If we want them to be kind, we need to be kind. If we want them to take responsibility, we need to take responsibility when we get things wrong.

Human beings are imperfect by nature because we don’t come to this earth with all of the answers. It is our job to lead by example and to teach children through our own actions. However, it is also important to remember that our example will never teach them ‘perfection’. We will make mistakes and have off days and this is normal. We just need to remember that children will have these kinds of days too and that like us, they won’t and shouldn’t be expected to be perfect all of time.

A child’s view of the world and themselves is formed by what they consistently hear, see and feel around them. It is our job to demonstrate the kind of behaviour we want to see and to instil positive values that will give them a strong foundation for the future. Children need strong boundaries and I believe that it is important to have them. However, as we are setting these boundaries and leading the way, we also need to take a step back and ask ourselves if we are holding children to a higher standard than we would be able to live up to as adults.

Respect is one of the most important qualities that we can instil in children, but it works both ways. If we want children to be respectful, we need to act in a respectful way around them too and ask ourselves if our actions would be acceptable if the shoe was on the other foot.


About the author:

Stacey Kelly is a former teacher, a parent to 2 beautiful babies and the founder of Early Years Story Box, which is a subscription website providing children’s storybooks and early years resources. She is passionate about building children’s imagination, creativity and self-belief and about creating awareness of the impact that the early years have on a child’s future. Stacey loves her role as a writer, illustrator and public speaker and believes in the power of personal development. She is also on a mission to empower children to live a life full of happiness and fulfilment, which is why she launched the #ThankYouOaky Gratitude Movement.

Sign up to Stacey’s premium membership here and use the code PARENTA20 to get 20% off or contact Stacey for an online demo.



BREAKING NEWS: Campaign group reports Government ‘abuse’ of the childcare market to competition authority

BREAKING NEWS: Campaign group reports Government ‘abuse’ of the childcare market to competition authority

PRESS RELEASE on behalf of

Champagne Nurseries on Lemonade Funding

Members of the campaign group ‘Champagne Nurseries on Lemonade Funding’ (CNLF) have made a formal complaint to the Competition and Markets Authority (formerly known as the Monopolies and Mergers Commission) about the Government’s abuse of the childcare market.

The complaint outlines how the Government has abused its legislative powers by regulating the childcare market, stating that “[the] price fixing of both the purchase and sales price is an abuse of market control”.

In September 2017, the Government will roll out its 30-hour offer to eligible 3 and 4-year-old children of working parents in England. However, due to the shortfall between the true cost of providing the ‘free’ hours and the deficit in funding from the Government, many childcare providers believe they will be unable to deliver childcare in a sustainable manner and will be forced to close.

This effect is in direct opposition to the Government’s aim of providing more childcare for the estimated 400,000 families who will become eligible for the additional 15 hours in September.

The complaint by CNLF, which has almost 7,000 members, states that the childcare sector is already in jeopardy due to factors such as the introduction of workplace pensions, consistent increases in the National Minimum and Living Wages and Business Rates revaluations.

It goes on to state that the Government has “ploughed on with its political agenda based on non-representative data” in reference to a survey commissioned by the Department for Education to establish the true cost of childcare, which only received 284 responses.

CNLF’s action comes in the wake of a recent survey of councils in England by the Family and Childcare Trust which found that over half (54%) said they did not know if they would have enough childcare available for eligible pre-schoolers using the 30 hours.

A spokesperson for the CNLF campaign group, said:

“We looked at various ways to challenge the Government on the issue of underfunding in Early Years. This route is a direct way of getting the legislation around funding investigated. 

“As private businesses, PVI's (private, voluntary and independent childcare providers) have been absorbing and trying to manage the costs associated with delivering the 'free' Early Years Education since its introduction. The extension to 30 hours for working families brings with it the real threat of closure for some settings who simply can't absorb or manage further losses.

“As providers, we fully support the Government helping families with childcare costs, however, the policies around funding mean that we have no choice but to cross-subsidise by charging inflated fees for hours outside of funded hours and charging for additional services for things that the Government say should not be provided within the funding. 

“This is not something we want to do and not something we feel parents should be faced with. It is a consequence of a policy which the Government has not funded properly and which childcare providers cannot afford to subsidise but know that they run the risk of being forced out of the market if they do not offer the funded hours.

“Research showed that only 51% of nurseries in England were expecting to make a profit in 2016, with the average nursery losing an astonishing £957 per child, per year on the 15 hour offer. 

“This level of loss on 15 hours of funding means that the increase to 30 hours is simply untenable for the whole sector at the current funding rates, the only way to ensure the ongoing viability of the whole sector is to remove the word free and allow the funding to be used as a subsidy.

“We are confident that the CMA will carry out a thorough investigation and we await their response.”



University research claims attending an ‘Outstanding’ nursery has limited benefit

University research claims attending an ‘Outstanding’ nursery has limited benefit

Research from the University of Surrey claims that children attending an ‘Outstanding’ nursery or one with highly qualified staff has limited benefit for them.

The research, published on the 13th February, outlined how the Government spends £2 billion a year on providing part-time nursery education for 3- and 4-year-olds in England. In the sample used for the research, 1 in 10 children attended an ‘Outstanding’ nursery, two thirds attended a ‘Good’ nursery, 1 in 5 attended a ‘Satisfactory’ one and 2% attended an ‘Inadequate’ nursery.

The research was conducted by teams from the Centre of Economic Performance (CEP) at the London School of Economics, University of Surrey and University College London.

Dr Blanden, a senior economics lecturer at the University of Surrey, said: "Successive governments have focused on improving staff qualifications, based on the belief these are important for children's learning.

"Our research finding that having a graduate working in the nursery has only a tiny effect on children's outcomes surprised us.

"It is possible it is driven by the types of qualifications held by those working in private nurseries, they are not generally equivalent to the qualifications of teachers in nursery classes in schools."

He added: "Some nurseries are helping children to do better than others, but this is not related to staff qualifications or Ofsted ratings.

"It is extremely important to discover the factors that lead to a high quality nursery experience so we can maximise children's chances to benefit developmentally from attending nursery, particularly as the government extends the entitlement from 15 to 30 hours."

The teams compared data on children’s outcomes at the end of reception with information on the nurseries they attended before starting school for 1.6 million youngsters born between 2003 and 2006.

The research found that commonly used measures of pre-school quality in England were not able to explain much of the variation in children’s outcomes at school.

Happy Feet Nursery raise over £3000 for Do it For Dylan fund

Happy Feet Nursery raise over £3000 for Do it For Dylan fund

A Larkhall toddler has returned to his former nursery before heading to the USA next month for life- changing surgery to say thank you to everyone there.

Donna Bittles, along with her three-year-old child Dylan, visited Happy Feet Nursery in Larkhall to collect a cheque for over £3000 that the nursery had raised for Dylan.

Dylan was born prematurely at 11 weeks and suffered a bleed to the brain; this led Dylan to be diagnosed with quadriplegia cerebral palsy, meaning he is confined to a wheelchair with limited movement and barely any independence.

Dylan is set to head to the USA next month to receive life-changing elective dorsal rhizotomy which, unfortunately, is a procedure he is not currently eligible to receive in the UK.

The family created the Do it for Dylan fund to help with the costs for this procedure and in just three months reached their target of £60,000.

Happy Feet Nursery throughout the year helped Dylan’s family reach this £60,000 by holding a large amount of fundraisers such as sponsored walks, 70s themed nights and even got the other nursery children involved by doing a green coloured theme day. The total amount of money raised by the nursery was £3,175 which the nursery would like to thank the staff, children and parents for helping to raise.

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