Sensory Spaces and Child Led Play

How can sensory spaces and child led play can help to develop your childs emotional wellbeing?

The new theme at the studios is Alice in Wonderland. I have spent the weekend re-decorating the sensory space and getting everything ready so I thought this would make a great starting point for introducing the new Emotional Wellbeing Project whilst at the same time explaining the sensory space and what my vision is.

Sensory spaces are available in many soft play centres and sure start centres as well as special needs schools, but what are they for and how are you supposed to use them?

As a secondary teacher in an autism unit I often felt that the pressure was on the create lessons using the sensory room to have a fixed structure and outcome to the lessons. All of my training had told me I needed to have a safe and predictable structure to my lessons and a fixed outcome, that if this was not in place for the children with autism I was working with then it would cause anxiety and further problems within the school setting. As time went on and I developed the sensory room I came to realise that this not only went against the idea of a sensory room but also against my values of how children learn and how to best support young people to develop their social communication skills as well as their emotional wellbeing. We tend to spend years training children to follow instructions, not to deviate from the norm or be creative thinkers before sending them out into the big bad world to do just that.

Sensory rooms are supposed to be places which appeal to a persons senses, somewhere they can interact with things using the 5 main senses: hearing, sight, touch, smell, and taste, depending on the type and purpose of the sensory room they can also offer a quiet space away from sensory overload and specific equipment and activities prescribed by an OT to help people with specific needs.

“Sensory Room” is an umbrella term used to categorize a broad variety of therapeutic spaces specifically designed and utilized to promote self-organization and positive change.

Sensory rooms have the ability to engage children in a different way of learning, to teach them through play, and by play I mean child led play, not structured ‘play’ which takes away all of the main benefits of play. It can teach a child how to think independently, how to share, communicate and express themselves, how to problem solve and even find ways to develop their own emotional wellbeing.

Sensory rooms should and can be used by all children, and even adults. i think everyone could benefit from ways to either stimulate or calm the senses. Most of us have found ways of doing this which we use every day: listening to loud music, chewing gum, or a big hug all have sensory purposes to help our central nervous system keep us calm.

Below I am going to share some of the images of the sensory space I have created along with the purposes behind each activity and how it can help a child. Click on the individual images for a little more detail.

The above pictures all show a part of the sensory space I have developed. When you click on the image it will give you a little more detail about how the certain activity can help. The overarching idea however is that the play is child led. That means that this might all happen, or it might not. The key to developing your childs emotional wellbeing using sensory play is that they find their own way. They discover that hiding under a blanket makes them feel calm, or that the light box makes them feel happy. We are merely offering the tools in which to help them discover their own way. One day, after all they will be the adults expected to do it all for themselves.

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