What makes a sensory story different to a story sack? by Joanna Grace

7th June 2017

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Story sacks were a huge hit in nursery settings when they first came out. We have all seen how having items hidden inside a sack, even if those items are simply laminated pictures or small cuddly toys, is for engaging children in a narrative. Some children need something concrete in order to be able to connect with and engage with a story.

When I talk about sensory stories often people think of story sacks, of course the items in these sacks are sensory, the whole world is sensory, we can see them we can touch them. But they are not sensory in the way that I mean the word: SENSORY!

A sensory story is a concise text combined with rich relevant sensory experiences. My stories are less than ten sentences long. The conciseness of the text is important for its inclusiveness. Some children will not be able to access long blocks of text. Actually we all take in more information when less is said. It sounds counterintuitive but it is founded in research, research much heeded by our sound-bite politicians who know we take in more of what they say when they say less!

Ten sentences might not sound like much but you would be amazed at what can be said in so short a text. Among the stories at The Sensory Projects I have one that tells with scientific accuracy how stars are formed in stellar nurseries, I have a retelling of sleeping beauty, the life cycle of a butterfly, a fantasy realist tale of a rebellious princess, and a magical adventure in a puddle! You can say a lot in a few lines, and of course there are the experiences too.

They say a picture speaks a thousand words, well in a sensory story you do not simply have visual experiences, you have auditory ones, gustatory ones, olfactory ones, tactile, proprioceptive vestibular the lot! Thousands upon thousands of words worth of meaning are conveyed through the experiences that accompany the text.

Each sentence in a sensory story is partnered by a rich and relevant sensory experience. The experience must have relevance to the text that it is partnered with and it must be an engaging experience to the sense it targets. So for example whilst a picture is an interesting visual experience only if you understood why you are looking at it, a sheet of coloured cellophane will be a huge visual experience no matter what. If you have no interest in a picture all it is visually is a few splodges of colour, where as the cellophane changes the whole vision of a person looking through it.

The items in a story sack may have sensory properties; the items in a sensory story are SENSORY!

Using sensory stories is loads of fun. They can be especially supportive of children with sensory needs, in my upcoming two posts I will talk about how I have used them to support children with sensory issues and sensory processing difficulties.

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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