How to create your own sensory room
Sensory play is important for every child’s development but especially important to those with special needs and disabilities. Whether your child needs additional help or not, here is how to create your very own sensory room in your home.
- What is a sensory room?
- Will my child benefit from a sensory room?
- How can I build my own sensory room?
- Sensory play tips
A sensory room is a peaceful, quiet space for your child to develop sensory skills through a range of stimulating objects. This controlled and safe environment gives your child to learn through their senses.
Although we know of five senses we use daily; sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing, sensory rooms can target seven senses by including stimulation for movement and muscle senses as well.
Sensory rooms are great for children with learning difficulties such as autism or children who have sight or hearing difficulties but all children can benefit from sensory play.
During the first two years of life, babies and toddlers rely on their sensory motor skills to learn about the world around them. A sensory room can develop these motor skills in a calming environment for your young child.
Sensory play can help older children and even adults too. If you often find your child hiding in a quiet spot of the house, such as under the kitchen table, they would benefit from having their own dedicated quiet space to explore senses and emotions.
There might be some impressive sensory rooms locally that you and your child can enjoy together but if you want to create a room or small space in your own home for your children, you can do so without having to spend too much.
Your sensory room should be build around the needs and abilities of your child. For instance, if your child has epilepsy, you’ll avoid flashing lights in sensory play. No one knows them better than you do, so create something they’ll love.
Despite the name, a sensory room doesn’t have to take up a whole room in your home. You can buy a cheap tent or create a little den for your children. If you have a walk in cupboard or a cupboard under the stairs, you can create a quiet space for sensory play.
If using a room or a cupboard, why not create a new entrance. Remove the door and create a new entrance by fix a hula hoop to the door frame. Drape or wrap many strips of different fabrics from old clothes or materials over the hoop to cover the hole in the middle. Your little one will love climbing through their fabric hoop to enter their sensory room.
You may want your sensory space to be full of colour and fun but with so much stimulation going on, your child might feel overwhelmed. Many sensory spaces have black walls and black ceilings because black absorbs light rather than reflecting it. The black colouring gives a sense of calm and allows the use of lighting to create sensory stimulation instead of sensory overload.
Before you start painting your house black, think of alternatives. Whether you find some old black bed sheets, pin up some black towels or stick up some pieces of black paper, you can use an alternative to create a similar effect to black paint.
Whether you use foam jigsaw squares you can slot together or a shaggy rug for flooring in your sensory room, your child should be comfortable whilst they play. As a nice contrast to a soft flooring, why not cover half of the floor with different panels of rougher material? You can use a section of a door mat for bristles, a square tile of carpet for a slightly rough material and section of a bath mat for a new feel. Be creative and think out of the box for good ideas your child with love exploring.
Lighting is an important part of a sensory room. Lots of twinkling fairy lights or light tubes will provide a calming effect on your little one when stressed or needing time out from a busy day. Try hanging a mirrored disco ball or some blank CD’s from the roof that will twinkle when the light hits them. Glow in the dark stickers or shapes made from kitchen foil can also work just as well.
If you can find a cheap projector to project images onto the wall, these are handy to have. You can use them to help theme a play session (i.e. project winter images on the wall and let your child play with ice cubes, snow confetti or fake snow you can buy in a tin whilst they listen to whistling wind on a music player). Baby toys that project images onto the nursery roof to help baby sleep could be used as an alternative.
A range of music could be used in sensory play. Whether you leave an MP3 player with headphones in the sensory room, or a CD player, your child can find music or sounds soothing. Try out a few different types of sounds to see what works best. One child might like to hear rain sounds or waves lapping against the shore where another might enjoy gentle music whilst they play.
Depending on what your sensory room is used for, you might want to include some smells in play sessions. From smelly toys to scented oils, you can easily introduce some smells into your space. Calming smells can include vanilla, jasmine or lavender whilst more stimulating smells can include cinnamon, spices or sweet smells.
Many parents may wish to include taste as a form of sensory play. If you child is willing, you can introduce a new taste to them. From sweet to sour, your little one can explore the taste using all senses before eventually having a taste.
Sense of movement
Movement is an important part of a sensory room. A rocking or swinging motion can prove calming and can help develop motor skills. A simple rocking chair or big plastic lid they can sit in and rock is good for a sensory room. If you can manage to hang up a swing or a hammock, all the better. Do what you can with the space and budget you are restricted to.
Sensory muscle play or proprioceptive is play which applies gentle pressure to address a need to be held, squashed or hugged by something. Children aren’t always interested in a human cuddle and sometimes just like the feeling of being squashed inbetween toys, bedding or small spaces. To include this into your sensory room is relatively easy.
Beanbags, particularly the big ones, are great for muscle play. Crawling under a big bean bag or lying on top of it as it moulds around your body shape leaves a comforting feeling of being squeezed. Weighted blanked or pillows can be just as good.
- Include chewy toys, toys with flashing lights (such as a ball that lights up when you shake it) and toys with different textures to stimulate your child.
- Ball pits or paddling pools filled with balls are great for sensory play
- Walls can be turned into sensory stations by attaching different door handles or knobs to them.
- If kept up high in a safe place, lava lamps or bubble tubes can provide hours of visual stimulation for your little one.
- Swatches of wallpaper stuck into a book can be good for touch.
- Concentrate on one or two senses at a time
- Let your child be free and creative, this is their space
Photography: Woodleywonderworks @Flickr