In the sixth part of our seven part series we look at why sensory stories are so awesome and how you can use them in your classroom. Take a look at our other blogs on PECs – The six steps and how to make it fun, SCERTS approach made easy!, Attention Autism – Are we offering an irresistible invitation to learn?, and Fun with Food programme for more great SEN teaching ideas, tips and best practice!
What is a sensory story?
A sensory story is one that activates each of the senses to encourage engagement in a range of learning situations. These range from simple engagement to knowledge recall, memory, communication, vocabulary development, social skills, literacy, movement and so on. Each has a different purpose. This may be to calm, to share experiences, or purely to encourage joint attention or interaction.
We really want to incorporate all the students senses and making the props does not have to be costly or time consuming!
Here are some great ideas that will help you target all the senses
You can also create your own instruments with household objects, or can use your voice/music to create sound effects. For example, tins and pans make for great weather noises or drums. Use rice in a sealed tub or tin to create a rain maker.
Try making movements with your body or on your body, for example making footsteps with fingers walking up the student’s arm. Hugs in a story can be shoulder squeezes, and try making body taps – using your hands to tap different parts of the student’s body.
Stretching the student’s hands, arms or legs is a quick and easy way to make shape movements. Helping the student move their arms in a circular movement could represent the sun – especially if you were holding some shiny paper or tin foil!
Sensory items to touch might include soft materials, crinkly paper, ice, fans to create wind, something warm to mimic the sun, fake grass to touch or go underfoot. Sand, stones, water beads and water are all great and easy to access materials to aid your sensory story – there are lots of household items you can use, so get creative! Consider temperature for example – how can we best represent this? A hot water bottle or ice cubes might be a good place to start.
You can create a sensory bag using a zip lock bag and some goop or hair gel. A another lovely tactile resource which is extremely easy to make is a sealed bag that you can add cold or warm water, you can even add sequins or glitter to change the feel or visual of the item.
Tin foil can be the sun or the moon and dark material can be the night sky. You can use fabric to make great visuals – even using items of clothing. Bubbles are a fantastic, fun and easy resource to make. A student’s favourite toy can play a massive part in your sensory story, think about creating a story all around that character. The character could go on an adventure through many different countries, experiencing different temperatures, climates, and textures such as sand or rocks.
You can explore all kinds of lotions and potions to create smells. Petals and water can create a perfume. Herbs and spices can recreate cooking smells or outdoor smells. Fruit tea bags can also add smell. Citrus fruits can add smells but are also interesting to touch and maybe even taste! Smelly playdough or putty (also good for tactile – mud or squashing sensation)
One of my favourite sensory stories is ‘we’re going on a bear hunt’ and here are some fab ideas to help you create your very own!
Some top tips for the props needed:
A PowerPoint for the big screen is easy to create, and by using a PowerPoint you can control the speed of the story.
Grass – actual grass in a pot is great as it has great smell too. Or I found that rolled up newspaper (into a stick like shape) with sellotape and ripped green tissue paper (long flowing bits are the best) on the end is perfect as it allows you gently ‘swish’ over the student’s hands, face etc. It also makes a great crinkling noise.
River – A spray bottle, although tepid water (especially at first) is much less shocking. Be sure to give lots of warning, maybe spraying on the hands first – we want this to be a great experience.
Mud – Playdough or noise putty is great. Let the student feel it, and squeeze it in between their fingers – these often make sounds like the squelch sound as well. Playdough is easy to make; it is also non toxic – for those quick hand to mouth moments!
Forest – Leaves from outside are always a hit. They crinkle in the hand and float in the air – who doesn’t like to watch leaves float to the floor! For an audio cue wooden percussion sticks are great for the stumble trip moment whilst the gang are walking through the forest.
Snowstorm – Ice gently touched on hands is great to feel the cold of snow. Magic snow is also perfect, just add cold water and it expands and then returns to its original state when dried out. Allow the children to explore – it will be messy!
Cave – A blanket draped over you and them – a torch is great under there too if you have enough hands! For any visual impairments where light/dark does not work – gentle squeezing of the shoulders or weighted blankets are great to mimic the sense of being in the cave.
Bear – A cuddly toy of a bear is great. Allow time to explore the nose (wetting is it great if you can), the ear, the eyes, use lots of explanatory language – wet, cold, fluffy, round, soft, hard, smooth etc.
Go back through the all the steps – it is easy to rush, and you want to build tension but use your voice and touch to build this. Use the time to explore all the props again.
The stairs & door – Stomp. This one is really easy – get the children who can move to do it with you and for those who cannot, let them feel the vibrations. For the door, clap your hands or shut a book quickly so the children can feel the breeze as it closes.
Bed – use a big heavy blanket. Get everyone who is able to go under to feel the texture. Slow your voice to create an area of calm and security. This is a great place to use deep pressure for those who need it.
Top tips for success:
Use each story in blocks. This allows the students to get used to the story and hopefully start getting involved.
Remember everyone’s processing time is different we want our kids to understand and be part of the story. This may takes weeks of the story – do not be disheartened. After a while the kids will anticipate the next move, and maybe even join in!
Leave enough pauses for the students to join in.
Time does not matter if the students are engaged, nor does actually getting to the end
Allow each student to explore each of the props, I found it useful to have a couple of each prop and involve my TA’s in helping the children experience each one.
Have fun and make each story a joint experience.