Guest Post: What are Sensory Stories?

Joanna GraceIn the first of a series of guest posts to our blog we welcome Joanna Grace, who will be talking about the concept of sensory stories. Joanna provides consultancy services for people looking to improve their provision for students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEN&D). She’s currently using KickStarter to raise funding to develop a series of sensory stories, which we are proud to be supporting.

Sensory learning is a wonderful thing, Jermone Bruner identified it as vital to cognitive development. Most people access it naturally: when we are babies people hold out fascinating toys for us to explore, we listen to all the sounds around us, we reach out and explore. Many milestones are ticked off when we learn to co-ordinate our sense of touch with our sense of sight. The importance of intersensory perception is something highlighted by Lewkowicz and Lickliter in their book about its development. As adults we continue to explore the world using our senses and learn from doing so: from the scientist closely observing his experiment, to the average Joe picking a new thing off the menu in a restaurant. However for some individuals sensory learning isn’t so easy.

A child with a sensory impairment may need extra help to make sense of the world using their other senses. A child with a physical disability may not be able to access certain experiences without support, for example all children instinctually jump in puddles and learn about what it’s like to have wet clothes, children with physical disabilities may not be able to do these things without support. Whilst the example of jumping in a puddle seems trifling, life is made up of many thousand little things like this which all help us learn and if you are someone who can’t follow your instincts and access these experiences yourself then being given the opportunity to have these experiences mediated in a different way can be liberating for you. Children with autism or ADHD or other related conditions such as Tourettes can also experience difficulties surrounding sensory processing. Indeed Sensory Processing Disorder is beginning to be recognised as a condition in itself.

Finger nails being scratched across a blackboardFor someone experiencing difficulties with sensory processing everyday sensory experiences can be excruciating, in the way that fingers down a chalk board might be too much for you or I to bear. Having the opportunity to experience stimuli in a safe place can provide these children with practice at regulating their reactions. Of course sensory learning isn’t just for children with special educational needs or disabilities, it can be used as a way to amplify learning for everyone. By telling stories which use all of the senses we can engage children of all abilities.

Sensory stories are one way of doing this. A sensory story is usually quite short, less than ten sentences. Each sentence is combined with a rich sensory experience. Knowing what constitutes a rich experience takes expertise. There are some wonderful experiences to be had in sensory rooms or via fabulous bits of equipment such as bubble tubes and coloured lighting, but even something as simple as total darkness or the sound of a piece of tin foil being blown across a tray can provide a rich sensory experience.

Examples of materials used in a sensory story
Examples of materials that could be used in a sensory story – textures, sounds and smells.

A selection of free to download educational resources containing sensory stories can be found at, with new resources added regularly.

Apollo Ensemble know how important sensory learning is, and for this reason they have backed the Sensory Story Project. With enough backers this project will create unique affordable sensory stories for children with special needs. Following the link will take you to a short film that explains more about great sensory stimuli. We hope you enjoy being a part of this project with us.


Lewkowicz, D.J. and Lickliter, R. (1994) The development of intersensory perception: Comparative perspectives. Routledge.

Bruner, J. S. (1959). The Cognitive Consequences of Early Sensory Deprivation. Psychosomatic medicine. Vol. 21, No. 2, Pg 89 – 95.