Lee and Jacqui are foster carers with Credo Care, and have built a fantastic sensory room for the children that they care for. Jacqui has written this article giving some tips and sharing what they learned from the experience!
We'd like to share with other foster carers the sensory room we've created at home. We were lucky enough to have space in our new home to create a sensory/play room for the two children we foster. Although they are very different, with different diagnoses, abilities and interests, they both have a love of most things sensory. Both love smells, textures, music and lights.
With this shared interest in mind, we've gradually converted half of the garage. It evolved over time. In the end we decided to go for a dark space theme. Half way through, we realised one child would also benefit from a lighter space with lots of fiddle bits and bobs and craft activities. We decided we would create two areas by splitting the space in two with two bookcases.
Once the room was plastered and painted, we made a list of the sensory things both children liked in one column, in the next column we listed resources that would meet their sensory needs alongside ideas and photos from catalogues and Pinterest. Using the list of resources we had identified, we planned where everything was going to go (noting where our plug sockets were). We resourced sellers on eBay who could make things to size, like chalk and magnetic boards. We spent time going around different shops and websites searching for sensory resources.
Some of the things we have in the dark space area are a UV light, UV resources, bubble tube, aroma diffuser, lights, bluetooth speakers for music, glitter balls, fibre optics, glitter curtains that catch the light, Christmas light decorations and colour changing bulbs.
The result is a well-planned sensory room that meets the needs of both of our foster children. It gives them a quiet dedicated space to chill out their own (with one of us), or together, to relax and chill-out or play.
Here are a few tips based on what we learned whilst building the space:
- You don't need to have a separate room to create a sensory environment. Just by adding a colour changing bulb, music and/or a smell transforms an ordinary room into a sensory experience.
- Pinterest has some amazing ideas to inspire you - download the app and search sensory room ideas. This is where we got our inspiration from.
- If you think you've got no experience of creating anything sensory, think again! For those of us who celebrate Christmas, we'll create an atmosphere with Christmas lights, spiced apple and cinnamon potpouri or candles and Christmas songs. Or when friends and guests come round we may light our scented candles and put some music on.
- Be mindful of overloading senses. Think of your child's needs and have options to target one or a two of senses at a time. Sound (music) and smell (maybe with an aroma diffuser), or just lights in a quiet peaceful setting. You don't have to have everything on at the same time.
- It goes without saying; if your child has photosensitive epilepsy, be sure you understand what type of light, if any, to avoid.
- If you're unsure what your child may like, speak to their school and find out what they enjoy and are drawn to there - particularly if they access a sensory room or enjoy music therapy etc. There may be places you can access locally to explore with your child.
- Shop around. Whilst special needs catalogues with sensory resources show you what's available they can be expensive. We found a mirror for £17.99 on one sensory catalogue. I've seen it for £14.99 on eBay but in JTF it was £9.99!
- Christmas decorations and lights are great sensory resources and again, may be cheaper to buy from garden centres or B&M (the bulb we use £2.99 in B&M, £8.99 on eBay). Likewise, the small disco bulbs in our sensory room are from Poundland for, yes you guessed it, £1! Once you've got your sensory thinking cap on you'll start seeing sensory and tactile resources everywhere.
- Don't overload your sockets with lots of electrical plugs, get an individually switched extension lead or something similar.
- Discuss using the child's DLA for their sensory resources; but don't forget to get consent for any one item over £50.
- You don't need to buy lots of expensive relaxing CDs or downloads, if you've got a tablet, just search and play them on YouTube.
- Don't be afraid to experiment and have fun involving the child/ren where you can, giving them some ownership.
- Use it yourself after a particularly challenging day or meeting!