My first time in a sensory room was quite impressive. I was oversees in a hospital for children with special needs. Beit Issie Shapiro (http://en.beitissie.org.il/come-visit/) in Israel is a pioneer facility and trailblazer in the use of sensory rooms. During my visit, it was explained to me that only one child and one facilitator was allowed into the room at a time. I was allowed in as a visitor. I had to take my shoes off and was then allowed into the darkened room (lit up with a bubble tube, sensory tunnel and fiber optics). I stepped across white floor mats and sat down to watch the interaction between the child and the environment. The child in the room was non-verbal and allowed to choose where he went in the room and which pieces of equipment he wanted to use. Goal setting was not a part of this experience. The child self-directed his time in the room. I have to say that the results were quite outstanding. While in this special space and time, this non-verbal child engaged with his surroundings and began to communicate. In a world where he was out of control, this sensory environment put him in control.
Sensory rooms have come a long way. Some may even be of the opinion that what we see today are not even really sensory environments, but more play environments. The up side is that you can determine what you’d like to do with your space and personalize it to fit your own child, classroom or clinic. It does not need to be an all or none experience. Maybe you’re thinking of creating a sensory room, but don’t have the budget? Well, you don’t have to loose hope. They are easy to make, can even be portable and affordable. You just need a small closet or corner of a room and you can transform your space into something very useful and functional for children of all abilities, particularly those with sensory needs or neurological challenges.
Before you start, decide what the overall purpose is for your room. Set up some guidelines for the use of the room and be ready to change the room around from time to time. Here are three ideas to get you started:
1) Reading or Study Corner: Find a corner or closet and you can transform it into a reading haven. If you have a bookcase, that is great, but if not a bucket of books will do the trick. Toss in a beanbag chair, some earmuffs to keep the noise out, and a lamp or book light. You may even want to hand a sheet up to act as a curtain for your space. If you have room add a fish tank (it can be fake) or bubble tube. Keep shuffling those books around to keep your reader eager to come back!
2) Chill Out Area: Tough day? Need a place to chill. You can create a great place to calm down. You’ll need a large pillow or beanbag chair. If you’ve got a doorway handy you can hang up a doorway swing bar and a net swing instead. Plug in a lava lamp, pipe in some calming music. Add a little aromatherapy. If you’ve got a sensory seeker or sensory over responder, have a weighted blanket handy too. Now sit back, relax and chill.
3) Campout Indoors. Grab a kids tent or Fun Frames (www.funandfunction.com) with a blanket or cover for the frames. Inside place a lava lamp, weight blanket or weighed lap pad, some pillows and soft music. Now you have a hideout, study area or place to calm. The tent or frames provide just the perfect framework and you can travel with them as well.
Last, if you’d like to build a more permanent sensory room, try visiting one at a facility. Perhaps your school or community might like to consider the benefits of having a public sensory room? When you’re ready, go to your school or facility and discuss the benefits. Once again, a sensory room can be built on a budget.