Who are you? The Importance of Identity in Sensory Play

Our sense of self, or our identity plays a big part in our emotional wellbeing. Without it we would be left floating; unaware of our own beliefs and values with no confidence to speak up for what we believe in. Our self esteem, body image and confidence all feed into our identity, and who we believe we are. But how do we teach that? how can we nurture our children to develop a good sense of self?

Healthychildren.org have a great article detailing many areas we can work on to help develop our children’s sense of self including developing a sense of security, belonging, purpose, trust, responsibility, etc, etc. What I want to look at here however is how we can use sensory play and art in a fun way to help to open up those discussions with children about who they are, to ask children, even from a very early age – ‘Who Are You?’ and to help to develop their sense of self in a unique and interesting way.

During the Alice in Wonderland theme at the studios in Manchester I have been focusing on how play can help to develop a child’s emotional wellbeing by  offering more than child led play which is great for developing the areas discussed in the article above. I have been offering opportunities within that play to help children to discover themselves, find calming strategies and sensory input to regulate their emotions.

Alice in Wonderland

Chapter 5: Advice from a Caterpillar

‘Who are YOU?’ said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, ‘I – I hardy know, sir, just at present – at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’

Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)

In this chapter of Alice in Wonderland Alice meets the Caterpillar who asks her the question ‘Who Are You?’ Alice finds this question hard to answer due to the changes that she has experienced during the day from being small, to being big, to being small again. Although the changes Alice experiences in the story are nonsense changes which we would not experience; we are all faced with changes throughout our lives which make us question our identity. Alice is given a mushroom to help her to be in control of the changes she needs to make, this helps Alice to navigate her way through the rest of the story. Just like Alice we all need things to help us cope with the changes that we need to make throughout our lives and the hope is that through The Emotional Wellbeing Project I will be able to do this.

Obviously this explanation is probably too abstract for many of the young people that will be experiencing the sensory play but below are pictures of the activities that we have been enjoying at the studios relating to this chapter.

A big part of this has been the use of mirrors which is a great sensory tool for children of all ages to use to study their own faces, babies are interested by the person staring back at them and older children can still enjoy watching themselves and pulling funny faces. Click on the individual images for more information.

If you or your school would like to be involved in The Emotional Wellbeing Project please get in touch


Sensory Spaces and Child Led Play

How can sensory spaces and child led play can help to develop your childs emotional wellbeing?

The new theme at the studios is Alice in Wonderland. I have spent the weekend re-decorating the sensory space and getting everything ready so I thought this would make a great starting point for introducing the new Emotional Wellbeing Project whilst at the same time explaining the sensory space and what my vision is.

Sensory spaces are available in many soft play centres and sure start centres as well as special needs schools, but what are they for and how are you supposed to use them?

As a secondary teacher in an autism unit I often felt that the pressure was on the create lessons using the sensory room to have a fixed structure and outcome to the lessons. All of my training had told me I needed to have a safe and predictable structure to my lessons and a fixed outcome, that if this was not in place for the children with autism I was working with then it would cause anxiety and further problems within the school setting. As time went on and I developed the sensory room I came to realise that this not only went against the idea of a sensory room but also against my values of how children learn and how to best support young people to develop their social communication skills as well as their emotional wellbeing. We tend to spend years training children to follow instructions, not to deviate from the norm or be creative thinkers before sending them out into the big bad world to do just that.

Sensory rooms are supposed to be places which appeal to a persons senses, somewhere they can interact with things using the 5 main senses: hearing, sight, touch, smell, and taste, depending on the type and purpose of the sensory room they can also offer a quiet space away from sensory overload and specific equipment and activities prescribed by an OT to help people with specific needs.

“Sensory Room” is an umbrella term used to categorize a broad variety of therapeutic spaces specifically designed and utilized to promote self-organization and positive change.

Sensory rooms have the ability to engage children in a different way of learning, to teach them through play, and by play I mean child led play, not structured ‘play’ which takes away all of the main benefits of play. It can teach a child how to think independently, how to share, communicate and express themselves, how to problem solve and even find ways to develop their own emotional wellbeing.

Sensory rooms should and can be used by all children, and even adults. i think everyone could benefit from ways to either stimulate or calm the senses. Most of us have found ways of doing this which we use every day: listening to loud music, chewing gum, or a big hug all have sensory purposes to help our central nervous system keep us calm.

Below I am going to share some of the images of the sensory space I have created along with the purposes behind each activity and how it can help a child. Click on the individual images for a little more detail.

The above pictures all show a part of the sensory space I have developed. When you click on the image it will give you a little more detail about how the certain activity can help. The overarching idea however is that the play is child led. That means that this might all happen, or it might not. The key to developing your childs emotional wellbeing using sensory play is that they find their own way. They discover that hiding under a blanket makes them feel calm, or that the light box makes them feel happy. We are merely offering the tools in which to help them discover their own way. One day, after all they will be the adults expected to do it all for themselves.

Kids Creative – Interactive Sensory Room – Is it Art?

The Sensory Room at Kids Creative

Is it Art? Or …. am I being a mother, teacher and small business owner setting up the learning environment for the day.

Is it Art?

As an art student 10 years ago this was the question I would ask and be asked time and time again. Be it a painting, sculpture, installation, performance the list goes on. The answer – I don’t know. what makes one thing art and another thing not? I looked at some “art” and thought seriously? is THAT art?

If something had the ability to make me think, feel or act differently about something then it also had the potential to be art.

The way I finally organised it in my own head was this: If something had the ability to make me think, feel or act differently about something then it also had the potential to be art. Some art looks great, some does not, some wants to make you feel uncomfortable, some wants to get a point across. And some, draws you in, makes you want to touch, play, and be a part of it.

I started to play with the idea of that relationship between the viewer and the art work. To explore how someone could interact with it, My dissertation and my degree show were both heavily influenced by this.

Fast forward 10 years, as a trained art teacher and a mother that focus has shifted hugely onto how I can engage my new audience. Kids!

As a trained art teacher and a mother that focus has shifted hugely onto how I can engage my new audience. Kids!

I have just opened up my own business, Sensory Art Studios for Kids. A place for kids to come and be creative through child led play, sensory experiences and art. Somewhere between a pottery place and a soft play place, where the focus isn’t on the end result but on the experiences enjoyed.

I find myself questioning again. The same old question. Is it Art?

Is what I am doing now the same as what I did for my degree?

Am I creating an installation as an artist and then inviting the children to engage with it, play with it and maybe become a part of the artwork as it changes and grows over the period of the installation.

 Or …. am I being a mother, teacher and small business owner setting up the learning environment for the day.

Am I offering children something which is rarely allowed with art, even with so called interactive art. To interact, touch, engage and learn.

What makes it a piece of art rather than a learning environment, (or why isn’t every learning environment classified as a work of art?!)

  1. The main purpose is to invite the audience to change the way they are thinking, feeling and acting.
  2. I have taken time to make the room/installation visually attractive, using a certain level of skill and craft in certain areas.

So, what do you think? Is it Art?

Leave your comments to join in the conversation below.

Sensory and Creative Play – A Celebration

Under the Sea Sensory Room

That was the beginning of what is now Kids Creative, and still the drive behind everything I do – to create spaces and opportunities for children to develop their communication and emotional skills.

As a Teacher in an Autism unit I was trained in the SCERTS educational model.

SCERTS stands for Social Communication, Emotional Regulation and Transactional Supports. The model developed by Occupational Therapists and Speech & Language Therapists should be used across school, home and any other community settings or therapies children are receiving believes that a Childs Social Communication and Emotional Regulation development should underpin every aspect of a Childs education.

This model opened my eyes to how the current education system can make this exceptionally difficult to do, and also how important it is that all children should receive an education driven by developing their social communication and emotional regulation skills.

The third part of the model ‘Transactional Supports’ refers to the supports which are put in place to allow children to develop their skills by doing things that they enjoy, by bringing the lessons to them, not expecting them to come to us all the time.

That was the beginning of what is now Kids Creative, and still the drive behind everything I do – to create spaces and opportunities for children to develop their communication and emotional skills.

The studio is a drop in space aimed at all children. I am open during the week for baby and toddler drop in but also offer 1-2-1 sessions for children with Autism which can include a structured and targeted approach following the SCERTS model and an after school drop in specifically for children with Autism.

The Sensory Story Garden Project at Wythenshawe Park will be another safe space for everyone to use to develop conversations and emotional wellbeing as well as enjoying and exploring.

There are various resources that can be used on the website including SCERTS style lesson plans and a Mr Men Emotions resource to help children better understand their emotions.

But its not enough. I keep hearing teachers talking about how they are so restricted in schools now due to league tables and OFSTED. I speak to parents who’s children are being failed by the system teachers are so tired of adhering to and think something has got to be done.

I started up The Emotional Wellbeing Project hoping to spread the word of the benefits of play and the importance of developing emotional wellbeing but to be honest, I was preaching to the converted. The people who are interested are the ones who already know it and already do it. There are so many teachers and other professionals out there battling the system and doing what they know is best for the children they are working with and this needs to be celebrated.

I have decided to change the focus of The Emotional Wellbeing Project to be a celebration. A celebration of all the good things that are happening in different settings, the ways in which different people are working on creativity and play and as a resource for other professionals to come to for ideas and support.

So, if you would like to feature on the blog or have any comments please get in touch.

This is going to be an ongoing and changing project, alongside the Wythenshawe Park Sensory Garden and the Studio aimed at providing inspiration, support and resources to young people and those working with them.

You never know, maybe one day we will change the world.

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The Emotional Wellbeing Project

Sensory Art - Messy Play

How can Sensory Experiences, Messy Art and Creative Play help to develop your Childs emotional wellbeing?

Many parents, educators and others with a keen interest in child development will tell you how beneficial sensory play is for babies, how it can help your baby to experience the world around them in the only way they know how pre language. The smells, noises and lights help to develop their senses and that by grabbing onto things or putting something into something else they are developing their fine and gross motor skills.

Special needs teachers use a sensory curriculum for children who have difficulties in understanding the world around them, those with communication difficulties as well as sensory processing disorders and other learning difficulties will mostly learn through these types of sensory play. Just in the same way as babies and toddlers can; the smells, noises and lights help to develop their senses and that by grabbing onto things or putting something into something else they are developing their fine and gross motor skills.

What I want to explore is how this can be taken one step further and help to develop a child’s Emotional Wellbeing. I want to apply this to all children, babies, toddlers, children with special needs and typically developing children into their teens. Sensory play has its place in any home or class room to help your child to develop. It is not something that is ‘done’ once your child hits a certain age, it is something that can continue into adulthood.

What is Emotional Wellbeing?

When we think of our own emotional wellbeing it is often based around a series of events and feelings that have made us into the adults that we are today, some happy and some sad. It is the ability to cope with these events, your resilience and ability to bounce back that makes you into an emotionally healthy adult; for others this isn’t quite as simple.

So what about your child’s emotional wellbeing? How can you develop their resiliency? Their ability to regulate their own emotions and deal with things in an appropriate way? Tantrums at 2 are pretty normal; but how do you cope when they are still happening at 10!?How can you ensure that they will have that ability to cope when life throws the big stuff their way?

Emotional wellbeing is the ability to control their emotions and themselves, to feel in control of what is happening around them and to be able to communicate effectively. It is an ability to understand how others are feeling in order to change their behaviour to make others happier (and hopefully themselves!) and to understand anger, sadness and the many other emotions that they will experience. It is the ability to be able to say ‘I’m feeling angry and I need to do ______ to calm down’ It is being able to understand why they feel the way they do and what they can do to change this. It is the ability to calm themselves down to relieve anxiety, stress and frustrations.

What… so Sensory Experiences, Messy Art & Creative Play can help all of this to happen?

In a nutshell, yes.

Sensory experiences can be used to calm the central nervous system in the same way that some people chew gum or play with our hair when anxious.

Messy art and creative play are great forms of self expression, but can also be used to help to develop control over situations, make choices in a controlled manner, learn to communicate effectively and; in the same way as adult colouring books have become so popular, offer a mindfulness type way of relieving stress, anxiety and frustration.

Over the coming months I am going to be exploring how different sensory play and art activities can help in different situations. Each week I will focus on a different emotion, or activity and discuss in more detail how it can be used to help. I will include plans for use in schools as well as tried and tested approaches and activities from the studios in Manchester.

If you would like more information on The Emotional Wellbeing Project, the work I am doing at the studios or would like to follow this project please click the follow button on the right or get in touch

Messy Play & Sensory sessions – Can they be truly Child led Play?

Starting up this business 3 months ago I was unsure of how the studios would be best used and how they would suit most peoples needs. This is still a work in progress and something that I am continually looking at in order to make sure that I can stay here for a long time!

I have decided to stop the messy play sessions for the time being and focus on the drop in sessions – which for the next month will be open most of the time.

The intention of the studios has always been a place for people to come and relax whilst their children enjoy being creative and playing in an unstructured way, the focus being on child led play. My concern was that the messy play sessions take away from this by adding structure to the sessions with the child led element of it being taken away (read here for a great article on the importance of child led play.)

So for the next month I am going to be trialling the messy play trays. which will always be available whenever you wish to drop in for an additional £2 on top of the £3 studio fee.

The trays will alway change depending on the story and theme we are exploring. This week and 9-15 May (I am closed next week) will be around the theme of Hansel & Gretel. Children will be invited to help the witch make some potions using slime, goo, gelli and bubbles.


Following on from that until the end of May there will be a Jack and the Beanstalk themed activity.

So come on down, explore what is here, and get messy (if your child wants to)

Visual Questioning Resources for Children with Autism

Who, Why, What, When, Where

Visual Questioning Resources

for Children with Autism & Related communication difficulties.

I have been working on these questioning resources to use in my classroom, all handmade 🙂

My aim is to have an interactive wall in my room which will encourage and guide conversations and evaluations in Art.

I will use the Who, Why, What, When, Where and How to prompt the children to ask a certain type of question and then the Did, Is, Can, Might, Would and Will descriptive cards to help to expand the questions. I aim to use these questioning resources with a range of children with Autism and related communication difficulties to help to direct their questions in a visual way.

I am using the SCERTS model as a basis for this to enable developmentally appropriate expectations on the conversations we are expecting from them. My hope is that this will then transfer into other subject areas so that children are getting the same support across the board enabling them to generalise and practice their skills.

Sensory Story – Thunderstorm. Using a Sensory Installation to engage children in Play

Sensory Story - Thunderstorm.

A Sensory Story based around the experience of a Thunderstorm.

This Sensory Story and experience is in 3 different parts which would have to be delivered at different times. Once all of the parts are done it might be nice to put it all together as a performance piece, either for an audience or for the experience.

The inspiration for this came from watching a thunderstorm and seeing the blue lightening lighting up the sky. I knew I wanted to make an experience that was using light and photography so this seemed like the perfect starting point.

This experience focuses around a sensory story in the first part encouraging discussions about feeling and fears around storms and loud noises, then the second part is about the retreat from the storm & building a calming den/space. Part 3 then focuses on the physicality of the storm, of recreating the lines of light in the sky and the loud noises.

Charged – Poem

I created a simpler sensory story to use with this workshop that would be understood by the toddlers which I have also recreated into postcard format to sell for people to try out the sensory story at home. This is available to purchase this through my Etsy store 


Emotions Social Story Resource for Children with Autism – Mr Men Emotions

Emotions Social Story Resource for Children with Autism

Mr Men Emotions – How do you feel today?

Mr Men Emotions Social Story – How do you feel today? A resource to help children to talk about their emotions in a fun and relaxed way.

The Mr Men Emotions Social Story is a resource to be used with all children, but especially those with Autism to help to talk about emotions and how they feel.

Each page is written in a social story type format for children to understand and includes sections to fill in about what they look like, things that make them feel that way and what they need when they are feeling that way.

Following on from all the positive feedback on this resource I have made a few changes to it to hopefully make it work better for more people. I have added disgusted & surprised so now the 6 basic emotions feature along with other common emotions.

I like to give each child a personalised version and then use the presentation for class discussion.

For a downloadable version of this please visit my Etsy Store  and for a Playlist of all the Mr Men episodes see my Youtube channel