When I first made Joshua his own quiet and sensory space in our dayhome, it was a LIFESAVER!!! He finally had a space he felt safe and comfortable in and could relax and ease his body. I didn’t go out and spend tons of money on specialty items instead I did a little inspirational research on Pinterest, raided my craft supply and tapped into my out of the box creative mind. I am going to share some of the ideas I came up with and resources that I have invested in to create all the sensory nooks we have had for our son.
My first sensory board was a recycled piece of cardboard from a recent package and I traced a large circle with a lid from our pots, and hot glued a ton of Pom Poms onto the cardboard. It created a wonderful visual and textural sensory experience. That board has held up very well and is in his current sensory nook almost 3 years after I made it! People have commented that their child would just rip them all off. And I understand that, but for our son and his sensory needs he enjoyed touching and feeling all sorts of textures and so he didn’t rip them off! That’s the thing about sensory needs, what works for one child may not work for the next. It is so individual. I have created quite a few different sensory boards these last few years using a variety of items, such as jewel stickers, popsicle sticks, straws, colourful kitchen scrubbers, gel glitter stickers and velcro.
Other simple items I have incorporated are abstract art throw pillows that provide great visual stimulation but also proprioceptive input as well. Throw pillows can have some good weight to them and Joshua loves for me to drop them onto his body or to to hit his joints in his legs with them as well. We also have the mermaid sequence pillows that are also visual but of course textural as well! AND they provide fine motor skills, determination and problem solving skills to figure out how the change the sequence over. For his new sensory nook I asked him to choose some new throw pillows, and he chose a wonderful soft and feathery grey pillow and also an embroidered leaf pillow with very calming colours. I LOVE that he chose such wonderful pillows that had great sensory input for him. Throw pillows add so much coziness, make the space inviting and I find help draw Joshua into his sensory nook. Which is what we want! I think one my greatest reuses was my pregnancy pillow in the bottom of his closet! It wrapped around the bottom perfectly and he loved curling up against it all the time.
Lights & Mirrors
Fairy lights are a wonderful addition to any sensory nook. They provide a dim light that is easier on sensitive eyes, and just really make any space calmer. Since Joshua is a visual seeker for good stimulation I have able to find some pretty awesome light sources. Our light orbs from the dollar store have been one of my best finds! They are battery operated, the orb has a texture itself and it gives a little, allowing for hi to squish it a little! So that’s visual, textural and proprioceptive sensory input all from a 3 dollar light orb!!!! Other light sources are the fibre optic light, push lights and flashlights. We absolutely LOVE our LIGHT CUBE!! This resource has 16 different colours that can either rotate or have one solid light of your choice. This light cube has been an integral part of Joshua’s sensory diet.
Mirrors provide so much wonder and curiosity for children, and I find Joshua is captivated by them. He loves to make faces in them, watch himself dance, and see the reflection of his actions while playing. We use real glass mirrors but I have also used acrylic mirrors from IKEA! Another very economical resource that reflects light and provides visually stimulating colours is OLD DVDS. These are amazing! I have either raided our collection for old movies we don’t watch anymore or I have found many at reuse centres.
Sensory bottles are so inexpensive, I like to use a variety of bottles because of their shape and textures they naturally provide. I fill them with all sorts of different items such as, dried pasta, vibrant Pom Poms, rice, water and food colouring, oil and food colouring, and beads. You can basically put anything you want in the bottle! All of these items provide great visual stimulation but also stimulate the auditory sense. The water and food colouring bottles are filled with different levels of water, and I did this intentionally to provide different weights for him to feel and maneuver, providing great proprioceptive input! The common way these bottles are used is as a calm down tool. However I have yet to see them actually work that way, if I offered my son one of these bottles when he was upset he would throw it right back at me. I find these resources as with many of them, they are best to have out all the time to provide the sensory input the child needs to help stay regulated throughout the day.
Sensory Nook Areas
Imagine you are always in flight or fight mode, don’t feel safe, most people don’t understand you, your anxiety is through the roof and you are exhausted from crying all the time. Our sensory kids feel like this all the time, well I know Joshua did for a very long time. When we began to look past his behaviours and tried to understand what he was really telling us, we began to “hear” him say how much he needed to feel safe and the world was too much for him. Sensory nooks provide a safe place where the child is understood and they are able to begin to communicate their needs in ways that are more visible to the rest of us.
For our son we had a sensory space for him on all levels of our home, and I utilized the bottom of his closet in his room for one! Was a great little space that only he could fit into, and this space was a big help with the really big meltdowns to help him regulate again. Once he was calm, he would engage with the items and we would either give him space to play or interact with him if he allowed. I always like to ensure that these spaces are created in quiet and low traffic areas. The play spaces that we have for him in the living room also have sensory items for him, so that he has access all day long. In our new home, I again utilized his entire closet to recreate his sensory nook after we moved, and I was able to create a beautiful space with the items we currently had and only bought the two additional throw pillows that he picked out.
When I first started creating these spaces, I used painters tape to adhere the sensory board and acrylic mirrors to the walls, of course they would fall down every now and then. His latest sensory and play spaces I have invested in 3M command strips and they are securing all the sensory boards, mirrors, pictures, and any other items I have up very well.
When reading through this post I want to make sure that you keep you child’s sensory needs in mind. We have focused a lot on texture and visual because that is what Joshua’s needs are and these resources work. What I hope is that you are inspired and feel that creating these necessary spaces for our children is very possible.
If going further into sensory processing and understanding how this can help support children and ease behaviours in your program, I encourage you to learn more about my online workshop, Supporting Sensory Needs - Understanding What Behaviours Are Communicating. I walk you through all 8 senses and provide many examples of behaviours, what they are communicating and how to make simple and easy accommodations in your early learning environments.
I am a mom to an amazing young son who was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at the age of 2.5 years old. This blog is about the journey we have travelled as a family to discover how our son communicates and to be a happy child in a world that doesn't quite feel right to him. I am an Early Childhood Educator and I use my passion of play and individual needs to support our son to live a joyous and happy life.