Now sensory by Joanna Grace

3rd August 2017

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Why we should, now more than ever, be thinking about the sensory nature of the activities we offer our students?

The sensory experiences we offer in our settings can seem like a bit of fun, but sensory experience underpins the wiring of our brains and is vital to the successful functioning of our cognition.

Early sensory experiences such as messing about making mud pies and rolling down grassy banks, things you likely did when you were little, are vital for the successful wiring of our senses. They are a part of that early tuning in of our body to our environment.

Today many children miss out on these experiences, some through disability or conditions that cause them to avoid experience but many due to a journey through their early years that involves a lot of indoor play on screens of one form or another. This is something I touched upon in my earlier blog post Slipping Sensory? It is very likely that in your setting you have children who have not had the range of sensory experiences they need to wire up their cognition. A lack of these experiences will make it difficult for them to focus, they will struggle to attend and to do simple things like sit still, their fine and gross motor skills may also seem behind where you would expect them to be.

Providing a range of enticing sensory experience can help children who have missed out on them in earlier childhood to catch up. You’re not just keeping them entertained you are helping them to develop their brain! Try to think with your senses when choosing experiences, so whilst a tray of toy animals might to you look like a farm to inspire role play at a sensory level what you are offering is the touch of plastic and some splodges of natural colours against a plain background, it doesn’t sound so great when you think of it like that does it? What about adding some hay for a different texture and added smell, or other forms of animal feed, could you make cow pats!? Can you find other related sensory experiences to augment the activity for your children?

Some children may find the sensory world daunting. For these children it can help to present experiences in a predictable way. Building them into a story as is the case with sensory stories means that children can anticipate what is coming next and when they can do this they will feel safe with what is going on which in turn will lead to a greater willingness to engage from them.  See what is the difference between a story sack and a sensory story for more information on sensory stories. Another way to build these feelings of security is to offer the same experiences in the same way over repeated occasions, for example leaving a table with a sensory activity out all week to be explored in the children’s own time.

Sensory resources don’t have to be expensive, what about some warmed herbal tea bags for different smells, or pasta (cooked or dried) for an interesting touch experience, tastes can be intentional or inadvertent (sometimes the latter works better with children who worry about eating) what about modelling with mashed potato, a foil blanket is one of the best visual and auditory experiences I know for engaging young learners they cost about 50p. The important thing is to think with your senses and choose resources that appeal to them. Shops like the Pound Store and Tiger are sensory paradises.

If you would like more ideas for simple sensory makes come and connect with me on Facebook where I am a person (not a page or business) called Joanna Grace, my profile picture is a blue tissue paper star.

If you would like to find out more about sensory stories a free basic guide to sharing the stories can be downloaded from http://jo.element42.org/sensory-stories where you can also find the stories old by The Sensory Projects and a variety of free summary leaflets which can be useful if you want to introduce the idea to other people. You may also be interested to read my book Sensory Stories for children and teens which is available on Amazon.

If you would like to attend or book a training day focused on sensory stories and how to get the most out of them for the people you support please visit http://jo.element42.org/training

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