Slipping Sensory? By Joanna Grace

21st February 2017

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Joanna Grace is an international sensory engagement and inclusion specialist and Founder of the Sensory Projects. The Sensory Projects run on the idea that great sensory experiences do not need to be expensive, with the right knowledge and a little creativity inexpensive items can become powerful sensory tools for inclusion. We welcome Joanna to the Childcare Expo Community.

Our Early Years Settings have always been places where a wonderful array of sensory experiences are available for children to explore. These experiences are a lot of fun. They are great for getting children involved. In taking part children: learn early mark making skills which help them with their writing when they are older; experience quantity and in doing so gather knowledge relevant to future numeracy skills; and encounter different types of substance and observe how they behave a good early science skill.  Yes, sensory exploration belongs in the Early Years and it is wonderful. But is there more to it that this? And are some of the sensory experiences we would have taken for granted in our youth slipping away from young people today? Is it more important than ever to ensure you have great sensory experiences on offer to the children in your setting?

In my work I travel throughout the UK training practitioners who support children of all ages and all abilities in what makes for a great sensory experience and equipping them with the underpinning knowledge to get the most out of these experiences. Many of those who have worked in their roles for a decade or more speak of a difference in the children they meet now, compared to those they met at the start of their career. Children are less willing to take part in messy play. Children are fidgetier. Children are fussier eaters. Children are entering EYFS settings with less spoken language.  And in secondary settings more and more children are showing signs of sensory processing difficulties. These are anecdotes not evidence but they lead me to speculate about the impact of a generation of children growing up with more screen time than the generation before.

I am not against gadgets, many skills can be gained through using them and they have opened up worlds of possibility for some of the more profoundly disabled students I work for, and I personally love television but as with so many things it is about balance. If children are entering our settings with that balance off kilter then it is up to us to make up the difference. Not to make sure our young people don’t get ‘square eyes’ but because these early sensory experiences do so much more than just offer us the opportunity to begin learning literacy and numeracy skills.

Early sensory experiences wire our brains and tune our senses in to the world we live in. Without this tuning process we are like a jigsaw piece cut with pinking shears, we sort of fit into the world but we do not fully connect with it and are forever wriggling around trying to find out where we are. Without that secure sensory knowledge underpinning our interaction with the world we feel anxious and unsure, we don’t know how to measure out our interactions with others we might be rough or loud, our responses aren’t be proportionate to our experiences. Without the ability to attend with our senses we are unable to learn efficiently. You might think that when you squirt shaving foam into a tray and adding some glitter that you are making letter writing practice look enticing but actually you are doing so much more than that. Now, more than ever, it is important that we are offering the young people we work with a wealth of inviting sensory experiences.

You can find out more about The Sensory Projects here

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