There is no one way to create a sensory space, it depends on users’ needs, school space and budget.
Here we present some ideas on items and equipment that can be introduced in your sensory space.
- Sensory boxes: pots filled with sand, stones, rice, pasta, or lentils, make excellent and affordable sensory boxes for pupils to sweep their hands through. You can also hide ‘treasures’ in the boxes, in the form of small toys, or balls, etc.
- Homemade texture board: boards covered with sandpaper, feathers, carpet, stickers, silk, etc. are excellent for allowing the pupil to explore different textures.
- Fidget toys: A fidget toy allows a child to regulate their need for touch and sensory input. It gives a focus to anxious energy and helps the pupil to calm and focus themselves. Ensure the toy does not distract others in the class. It can be a specially designed toy, such as those shown in the photo; or something like playdough, beads on a string, a balloon filled with flour, or even a smooth stone to hold and turn in the hand.
- Vibrating cushions: These can be laid on and allow the pupil to feel a calming vibration across a larger part of their body.
- Pillows and blankets: A pillow is great for punching to get rid of aggressive energy. Blankets and pillows to cuddle and wrap up in, offer reassurance and calm.
- CD player or music device: to play calming music or sounds, such as rain or birdsong.
- Rain sticks: Rain sticks are hollow sticks that contain beads or beans that sound like calming rain as they fall.
- Noise-cancelling headphones: to provide a quieter environment
- Sound-proofed area: if you have the budget and space, a sound-proofed area can provide respite from noisy classrooms. Such areas are also good for teaching blind and deaf students.
- Noise reduction: Sound-proofing can be very expensive and can involve major works, but there are some very simple measures that can be taken to muffle sound. Hanging thick curtains, putting up wall hangings, using rugs and cushions can all help to absorb and reduce external noise.
- Lighting control: Bright lights or dark spaces can both cause distress. The ability to dim the lights or provide a brighter environment, will help you tailor the space to the students needs. You can change the lighting by using dimmer switches: these change the lighting by being twisted but have to be properly fitted. Lamps: You can fit different strength lightbulbs in a number of lamps, you can can also find lamps that have variable brightness settings. Sheets and curtains: can provide a shaded or darkened area.
- Distracting lights: Lava lamps and bubble tubes, string lights all help to provide low lighting and can be an effective distraction for users.
- Other visual resources: homemade glitter bottles, mobiles, or mirrors.
- Essential oils: Cushions or fabrics infused with a few drops of calming essential oils can help reduce stress and induce calm. Scents such as lavender and rose are very calming, peppermint and lemon can help a person to reduce anxiety and think more clearly.
- Hand cream or lotions: Familiar smells from home can be soothing, hand creams can also feel nice.
- Scented objects: For example, a vanilla scented toy can distract a child and induce a sense of familiarity and comfort. Cushions stuffed with lavender flowers can be very calming.
- Unscented objects: Some individuals are very sensitive to scent. You may need to ensure that strong smells are not present, for example, positioning the safe space away from a school canteen.
Ensure that when you use scents, such as those suggested above, you use them in small amounts to ensure pupils senses are not overpowered.
Vestibular senses are about balance and moving through space, understanding how wide to open a door to get through it, or how to hold your head up and stand straight. The following items all promote a sense of balance and spatial awareness. Many items can be home-made and can be used together. For instance, balance boards can be used as stepping stones, or an obstacle course can be created with a selection of these things.
- Therapy balls: These include small balls to manipulate on one leg, for example, or large balls to sit on and bounce.
- Scooter board: This is a board with coasters fixed to the bottom, so it can move in all directions. It can be bought or made, and have handles and even a cushion on top.
- Stepping stones: Again these can be bought or made, and promote coordination and balance. They can also be textured offering another sensation to the user.
- Balance board: Also called a wobble board, this is a board that wobbles, compelling the user to adjust their position to stay upright.
- Space hopper: So much fun! A large ball with handles that can be sat on and bounced along with.
- Trampette: This is a small trampoline, often with a handle to assist with balance.
- Active seating: seating that rocks or sways
The proprioceptive sense is about body awareness, where your body is and how to move it to do what you want to do. For example, how to move your body to put on a t-shirt, or how high to lift your foot to climb stairs. The following items can help in delivering activities that increase students’ awareness of their body moving through space:
- Body cards: a set of cards showing different parts of the body, to prompt students to identify and move those body parts.
- Weighted blanket and cushions: heavy blankets might contain rice or sand, this applies greater pressure to the individual, helping them understand which body part they are moving.
- Tunnel: Providing a tunnel to move through challenges a child’s sense of proprioception as they have to understand what to move to get through the tunnel. You can buy a play tunnel, or use a large cardboard box.
- Resistance bands: Again, resistance bands provide information about the pupil’s movements and positions of the body. The bands are made of stretchy material. Different colours are usually offer different resistance, with some being more stretchy than others.
Interoception is about what is going on inside the body – awareness that you are breathless, feel sick, are hungry or thirsty, hot or cold, itchy or achy. Breathing strategies and yoga can help improve body awareness. Also talking about how the above resources feel on different parts of the body.
- Yoga mat
- Breathing strategies: cards or posters showing different breathing exercises can be displayed.
- Timer: digital, sand, egg timers to help child understand how long they should stay or have stayed in the space, or time for exercises.
- Small tent: for creating a separate space
- Bubbles: For distraction and also aids proprioceptive senses as child attempts to catch bubbles.
- Books: For distraction and focus
- Comfortable furnishings: making the space comfortable and reassuring
- Furnishings as separators: If the space is within the classroom consider furniture that could be used as a separator, e.g. a bookshelf or a curtain.
- Drawers: for pupils who are regular users of the space, you might consider personal drawers or boxes that contain items that they have chosen and that are personal to them, such as cuddly toys.