Sensory and Creative Play – A Celebration

Under the Sea Sensory Room

That was the beginning of what is now Kids Creative, and still the drive behind everything I do – to create spaces and opportunities for children to develop their communication and emotional skills.

As a Teacher in an Autism unit I was trained in the SCERTS educational model.

SCERTS stands for Social Communication, Emotional Regulation and Transactional Supports. The model developed by Occupational Therapists and Speech & Language Therapists should be used across school, home and any other community settings or therapies children are receiving believes that a Childs Social Communication and Emotional Regulation development should underpin every aspect of a Childs education.

This model opened my eyes to how the current education system can make this exceptionally difficult to do, and also how important it is that all children should receive an education driven by developing their social communication and emotional regulation skills.

The third part of the model ‘Transactional Supports’ refers to the supports which are put in place to allow children to develop their skills by doing things that they enjoy, by bringing the lessons to them, not expecting them to come to us all the time.

That was the beginning of what is now Kids Creative, and still the drive behind everything I do – to create spaces and opportunities for children to develop their communication and emotional skills.

The studio is a drop in space aimed at all children. I am open during the week for baby and toddler drop in but also offer 1-2-1 sessions for children with Autism which can include a structured and targeted approach following the SCERTS model and an after school drop in specifically for children with Autism.

The Sensory Story Garden Project at Wythenshawe Park will be another safe space for everyone to use to develop conversations and emotional wellbeing as well as enjoying and exploring.

There are various resources that can be used on the website including SCERTS style lesson plans and a Mr Men Emotions resource to help children better understand their emotions.

But its not enough. I keep hearing teachers talking about how they are so restricted in schools now due to league tables and OFSTED. I speak to parents who’s children are being failed by the system teachers are so tired of adhering to and think something has got to be done.

I started up The Emotional Wellbeing Project hoping to spread the word of the benefits of play and the importance of developing emotional wellbeing but to be honest, I was preaching to the converted. The people who are interested are the ones who already know it and already do it. There are so many teachers and other professionals out there battling the system and doing what they know is best for the children they are working with and this needs to be celebrated.

I have decided to change the focus of The Emotional Wellbeing Project to be a celebration. A celebration of all the good things that are happening in different settings, the ways in which different people are working on creativity and play and as a resource for other professionals to come to for ideas and support.

So, if you would like to feature on the blog or have any comments please get in touch.

This is going to be an ongoing and changing project, alongside the Wythenshawe Park Sensory Garden and the Studio aimed at providing inspiration, support and resources to young people and those working with them.

You never know, maybe one day we will change the world.

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Who are you? The Importance of Identity in Sensory Play

Our sense of self, or our identity plays a big part in our emotional wellbeing. Without it we would be left floating; unaware of our own beliefs and values with no confidence to speak up for what we believe in. Our self esteem, body image and confidence all feed into our identity, and who we believe we are. But how do we teach that? how can we nurture our children to develop a good sense of self? have a great article detailing many areas we can work on to help develop our children’s sense of self including developing a sense of security, belonging, purpose, trust, responsibility, etc, etc. What I want to look at here however is how we can use sensory play and art in a fun way to help to open up those discussions with children about who they are, to ask children, even from a very early age – ‘Who Are You?’ and to help to develop their sense of self in a unique and interesting way.

During the Alice in Wonderland theme at the studios in Manchester I have been focusing on how play can help to develop a child’s emotional wellbeing by  offering more than child led play which is great for developing the areas discussed in the article above. I have been offering opportunities within that play to help children to discover themselves, find calming strategies and sensory input to regulate their emotions.

Alice in Wonderland

Chapter 5: Advice from a Caterpillar

‘Who are YOU?’ said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, ‘I – I hardy know, sir, just at present – at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’

Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)

In this chapter of Alice in Wonderland Alice meets the Caterpillar who asks her the question ‘Who Are You?’ Alice finds this question hard to answer due to the changes that she has experienced during the day from being small, to being big, to being small again. Although the changes Alice experiences in the story are nonsense changes which we would not experience; we are all faced with changes throughout our lives which make us question our identity. Alice is given a mushroom to help her to be in control of the changes she needs to make, this helps Alice to navigate her way through the rest of the story. Just like Alice we all need things to help us cope with the changes that we need to make throughout our lives and the hope is that through The Emotional Wellbeing Project I will be able to do this.

Obviously this explanation is probably too abstract for many of the young people that will be experiencing the sensory play but below are pictures of the activities that we have been enjoying at the studios relating to this chapter.

A big part of this has been the use of mirrors which is a great sensory tool for children of all ages to use to study their own faces, babies are interested by the person staring back at them and older children can still enjoy watching themselves and pulling funny faces. Click on the individual images for more information.

If you or your school would like to be involved in The Emotional Wellbeing Project please get in touch

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.