Multisensory Play Environments Resource

OW photo girl with glow stick and fairy lights

As humans we are all sensory beings and as such we use our sense to define our world. Engaging with our senses in our own unique way help us deepen and understand our experiences and the world around us. 

When we provide opportunities that stimulate our sight, sound, smell, touch and hearing as well

 as our kinaesthetic sense creative engagement can best provide opportunities for connection, stimulation, wonder and play. If we layer the sensory experience with different possibilities these will all became potential entry points that can deepen the experience for the individual connecting their inner and outer worlds. 

Sensory play can support us in a number of ways:

• To aid communication

• Provide safe places for exploration to aid cognitive and physical development

• Afford us opportunities to participate in activities that would otherwise be closed to us in a deeper and richer way

• To provide opportunities for emotional regulation – they can excite or relax us, either providing safe spaces to retreat into our inner worlds or provide spaces where we can engage with and communicate with our outer world and explore.

• They can provide opportunities for relational engagement and play 

• They can provide a standalone opportunity for the above to happen or act as a container or meta space in which to layer other play activities

• Provide safe, unthreatening and open play opportunities which where if desired different individuals can all participate in together.

Multisensory play environments will by their very nature mostly engage multiple senses increasing the opportunity for inclusion and engagement. Depending on the offer as a concept they are also uniquely able to be created to suit your child or young person’s needs whatever they might be and how ever they experience the world. When creating sensory spaces or moments it can really help to start with your child strengths, what they enjoy and what will give them the best possible opportunity to explore. 

Multisensory play spaces can be effective and enjoyable whether they are simple, mobile or complex fixed spaces and can provide opportunities for lone play, pair interactions or group interactions. They can provide a ‘known anchor’ space from which to instigate activities (especially creative play) or personal retreats to get away from it all. Depending on which senses your child or young person uses most it can be fun becoming a ‘play detective’ and experimenting with new sensory interaction possibilities.  Whether that be creating a sensory space to thematically match a loved story, making a mobile sensory environment that can move about with your child if they are always on the go or developing a sensory experience that is simple but that can be bought to your child if they have limited mobility either to their chair or on the floor. The key is to design a space that suits your child and offers may points for interaction, is practical, safe   and above all is enjoyable!

Examples for experimenting with how to use the different senses within sensory play environments:

Sound

Using rhymes, rhythm and repetition works well either created through our voices, found objects or instruments. Musical instruments and found objects are great look for the different qualities in the objects and the sounds that they might make – metal might create a sharp and hard sound or a bell like sound for example, water a dull or splashing sound. Our voices are great for creating soundscapes and atmosphere. We can use varying volume to create effects. The internet is great for soundscapes especially of environments whether natural or manmade that can be played through speakers. Please see our short film on sound effects in the music and sound resource.

Touch

Try experimenting with different interesting textures in either materials, objects or toys and puppets, contrasts work well as do objects/ elements that have different properties. For example, you could create elements of a snow storm with a fan, ribbon attached to the fan, ice or child friendly synthetic snow.

Visual

We can use materials with different textures, colours, lights – either torches, battery operated fairy lights, standalone LED toys and lights. Contrasting light and shadow also works really.

Taste

Food, liquid sprays to be sprayed on the tongue for those enteraly fed

Smell

Think about how an environment might smell and the different elements within that environment that might smell and bring them into the space or recreate them. Damp leaves  for a forest or pine cones. Smell can also be used to excite or relax some essential oils such as lavender are great for creating a relaxing environment.

Before Starting a Few Things to Consider:

What do you want to use the play environment for?

What is its purpose of the sensory environment?

What are the main sensory elements of the multisensory environment?

Will this be a stand alone activity or experience or can I layer it with other play experiences, use it as a potential space to focus/ anchor and create other play possibilities

What kind of environment would either suit my child or the situation?

What opportunities for play and creative engagement does the space provide?

Will the space be intended for lone time or for connecting with others or for both?

Will my child be safe – is the play environment safe? Do they need to be supervised or can they play alone check, check and check again!

If there is an element of a story or a space that you want to make sensory what are the different ways of creating a sensory experience for my child?

Sensory Story Example

In a story a monkey (sensory object: monkey puppet or some fur to represent its fur) loves mangoes more than anything. How to provide a sensory moment that involves the child in the delight of experiencing mango? What would be appropriate you are the best judge of this. This could be slices of fresh mango or the individual is enteraly fed you could apply smelly mango cream to their skin or squirt mango juice from a small bottle onto their tongue. Take a moment to find the best way to translate the sensory moment.

What do I have at hand and how practical is it?

What are the key components of the space? Choose these and it will be easier to build the sensory space around these components.

Will I make this environment by myself or is their potential to involve other members of the family so that we can create and make and then enjoy together?

How can I have fun making this space? It needs to be enjoyable and doable!

Please see our accompanying photo montages for suggestions of different sensory spaces you can build to suit the needs of your child.

A Simple framework and check list to use when creating your Multisensory Play Spaces:

We have used the large single leaf environment (please see the photo montage video) as an example. You can see three other examples below.

Leaf Multisensory Environment

Environment suited to child who

likes to move around a lot with a short attention span and who likes lone time and could benefit from connecting with others more.

Role of the environment

Mobile sensory fun that can move around with the child/ young person, opportunities for lone play in a contained space

Mood or emotional quality of the environment

various can be fun, interactive and relaxing depending on need.

Main senses used

touch and visual (when used with light up toys) and kinetic/ movement through space

Main features of the environment

large Ikea play leaves (please secure the end of the stalk by wrapping with gaffa tape or similar and some small play objects. Sensory balls that make a noise or light up are great but it can be any objects depending on what your child likes to do and what you want to do with the space. A great resource as it provides potential for sensory activities and play both on its upper surface and its under surface.

Relational elements

engagement with others through group play provided by the object games with the leaf, hide and seek, moving the leaf around - being pulled, making a mini den. This is also great for providing distanced interaction and lone time that can be in close proximity to others.

What possibilities are there to use this space to lead to other play possibilities and what adaptions would I need to make

his basic sensory environment can lead to lots of play opportunities. When lifted and turned upside down and balls placed in it can provide a shared game and interaction space either for improvised play or structured games.

It can be used within many sensory stories either as a prop or the child’s space that becomes part of the story e.g. the teddy bears picnic, the hungry caterpillar etc.

When presented to the child or utilised by the child as a ‘leaf cave’ it can provide opportunities for simple fun games such as peek a boo and improvised character play

In ‘green cave’ format it can provide a safe contained space and opportunity for relaxation or self regulation and lone time.

If sat on it can be used as a mobile play environment and sledge and allow the child to have an anchor point and be moved while still playing.

What making kit do I need

Just the Ikea leaf and some strong gaffa tape

What is the easiest and safest way to make this environment

Supervision and interaction first and enough space needed may need to move some furniture or choose spaces that accommodate it.

Multisensory environments to make at home:

These are suggestions that you can adapt to suit the needs of your child or young person and inspire you to build your own themed sensory environments. The sky is your limit have fun!

Outer Space Sensory Environment

Sensory Storytelling Environment

Umbrella Sensory Environment

Have fun, enjoy!