Sensory Stories: Engaging Storytelling

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Sensory story activities help promote literacy and creativity for all ages. (Source: Colleen Wieman)

We are all sensory beings and our minds are stimulated through a range of senses that sometimes impact our likes and dislikes, and even our emotions. It is unsurprising that sensory stories have become a beloved part of the school curriculum and are having a positive impact on SEN learning. Using physical stimuli allows children to engage with stories creatively and refreshingly. These tools aren’t just useful for SEN learning but are fantastic ways of engaging children of all ages and abilities with storytelling. Sensory stories stimulate creativity and develop an understanding of the material for those who have the pleasure of listening to them. Sensory stories provide an additional outlet for learning through playing and developing language skills. 

 

What are Sensory Stories? 

Sensory stories are the narration of books using sensory stimuli. These elements combined provide a creative outlet for children of all abilities to engage with storytime and be able to develop memory and social skills from the narrative. Using multi-sensory methods ensures that children are actively engaged and participating in the storytime. A useful tool for encouraging creativity, it also has a host of other benefits. Things like anticipation, learning to wait, and turn-taking all features as part of sensory stories. When telling sensory stories, nothing should induce trauma or have an aversive effect on the child. Negative words should appear less pleasant but non-damaging towards the stories. Sensory stories build constructive and creative channels of communication for children to engage with through fun narratives. 

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Sensory stories are a great way to tap into your children’s potential creativity. (Source: Tryphena Mayhugh)

Sensory Story Ideas

There are plenty of sensory story ideas to help a variety of groups. Sensory stories are deeply beneficial to learners and help with communication as well as aiding multiple social skills. These help young individuals develop social and collective behaviours that will allow them to perform daily functions.

People who live with a sensory processing disorder, otherwise known with SPD, respond well to sensory stories. They respond to sensory stimuli in one of three ways: too strongly, too weakly, or in a confused manner. SPD is a condition that is usually accompanied by a diagnosis of autism or Tourettes – though this isn’t always the case. Most children who are affected by it find it difficult to concentrate as they experience sensory overload easily. Sensory stories give those who live with SPD the opportunity to interact with stimuli in a safe environment. By practising social situations in a story format, children can build confidence to behave in a particular way. They may not be challenged by social interactions but by physical touch and objects. By slowly increasing their exposure to stimuli in an environment that they have security in, this eventually allows them to normalise the object and behave with it as if it had never bothered them. 

Those who have special educational needs or SEN individuals also thrive with sensory stories. Sensory stimulation is an important part of cognitive development and provides alternative routes to communication. The more senses we utilise, the more our brains learn and develop tighter functions. This, in turn, means that mental skills like memory and understanding are engaged. If someone is non-verbal, sensory stimuli provide a much needed and valid form of communication for them. Sensory stories supply an outlet for which SEN individuals can express themselves in a structured and safe environment.

Children adore storytime, so engaging in sensory experiences from nursery age is something that is actively encouraged by educators and psychologists. Sensory stories allow children to learn to practice language imaginatively and develop social skills like turn-taking and sharing. It is an important facilitator of language development. Allowing children to verbalise their stories and practising pronunciation can be a critical part of verbal growth. Through learning through play, early years children can develop language skills through sensory stories. 

While early years benefit greatly from sensory stories, children of primary school age also have a lot to benefit from this style of learning. Sensory stimulation can be used to promote creativity by helping children with their phonics and vocabulary, as well as helping them develop their creative storytelling skills. Getting them to create a rich sensory description to include their stories can be done in a practical way meaning that they will be using language in a variety of ways as well as enjoying a sensory experience.

You are never too old to enjoy a story and indeed people in senior education are not exempt from the wonders of sensory stories. Getting students to condense a story that they already know into a paragraph provides a creative outlet and an opportunity to exercise word economy – what does a word mean and what is its purpose? Stripping a story down to its bare necessities allows children a chance to hone their revision skills. It aids with time management and also increases their opportunity of getting key facts delivered during exam times. 

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There are plenty of materials that can be used for sensory stories. (Source: San Jose Library)

 

Sensory Story Training 

Sensory story training should be an essential part of every classroom experience. There are three ways of creating engaging sensory stories that impact student learning and aid with their appreciation of sensory stimuli. Creating a sensory story around a topic that you want your child or children to learn is a great way of introducing the theme to the children. By sharing the story at the beginning of your lesson, find ways to weave your topics into the lines of the story. Children will happily memorise these types of situations and they will be able to find ways to link stories to facts in their head. 

Utilising memory activities in your children can be stimulated with sensory stories. If taking a trip or even playing outdoors, encourage children to be able to make a narrative from their shared experiences. A fantastic way of allowing them to enjoy their experiences is getting them to write a sensory story using their memory and asking them to engage their senses to recount it. Encouraging them to use physical materials to tell the story can be another great way of engaging them with content you want them to reflect on. 

Sensory stories are a fantastic way to allow children to express themselves, develop creativity, and nurture their sensory abilities. There are plenty of resources and materials available to suit multiple needs. Sensory engagement through play and narrative is a fantastic way of gently enforcing social expectations as well as promoting creative channels that will serve children in their futures.

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