There’s a lot of buzz about sensory rooms! As you better prepare to welcome kids with special needs into your church, a sensory room can be an extremely helpful tool to utilize in your ministry. It’s a place that the overactive child can be calmed, while the inactive child can become stimulated. It can be an effective means to help kids who have disabilities such as autism, anxiety and even ADHD! Kids with sensory integration issues can be overwhelmed in large loud spaces, making attending a highly energetic kids’ church a difficult and traumatic experience! So when the earplugs are just not the solution, a sensory space that kids can slip away to might just be the perfect haven! That’s great news! But just what exactly is a sensory room? And how do you create one?
A sensory room is simply a designated room or space where kids can feel safe, relax and self-regulate. Self-regulation is the ability to calm oneself down. We begin learning this skill as a baby, when we are stressed and offered a pacifier to help bring tranquility. Sometimes, kids and adults have a difficult time managing powerful emotions and need a pacifier. This assistance can come in the form of a sensory room.
Sensory rooms provide activities that focus on the primary senses, like touch, vision, sound, smell and taste. One’s senses are stimulated by a combination of music, lighting effects, gentle vibrations, tactile sensations and aromas. These activities are not only therapeutic in nature, calming escalated behavior, but also have been proven to help kids learn better, improve their communication skills, and become more alert. A sensory room can actually help your special kiddos engage better in your ministry!
It’s no wonder that sensory rooms, sometimes referred to as “quiet rooms” are actually utilized in a lot of different places, including: schools, hospitals, nurseries, group residential homes and in individual homes. So, why not use this proven tool in your ministry?
Let’s explore how to set up a sensory room in your church. Sensory rooms can be packaged a variety of ways, leaving a lot of room for creativity. It’s all about creating good experiences for kids! True sensory items can be ridiculously expensive! If you have the budget, the sky is the limit! But, if you don’t have a lot of discretionary dollars, here are some ideas of how you can create a sensory space on a budget! That got your attention, didn’t it?
Some items to consider when starting a basic sensory room might include:
- Large bean bag chairs
- Projector to project images on a wall
- Bubble lamp or other optic lighting
- Rocking chair
- Large scenic poster or mural
- A comfortable rug
- Stereo with assorted types of music or nature/relaxation CDs
- CD players with headphones
- A sound machine
- Yoga mats
- Large exercise balls
- Mini trampoline
- A flowing water fountain
- Bins filled with dry beans or popcorn kernels with assorted textured toys hidden in them
- Strings of roped Christmas lights
- A wall with various textured items secured
- Weighted vests, weighted blankets or weighted lap pads.
Pinterest is a great place to find ideas for sensory items that will fit your budget. Be sure to shop ebay for gently used items. Garage sales can bring a wealth of treasures as well. Consider printing a wish list and distributing it to your volunteers, parents or adult Sunday school classes.
Remember to select items that can be easily cleaned. Always ask the parent/guardian if their child has any hypersensitivity to what you are planning to use prior to the use.
If you don’t have a space that you can dedicate as a sensory room, no worries! Your sensory room can be portable, as items can be set up, taken down and stored in a tote or closet until your next meeting time. If you don’t have a classroom that you can dedicate even on a weekly basis, you can consider setting up an area in a corner of a room that can be stationary or portable. A portable sensory cart can be easily transported to various spaces. If this is not a possibility, you can create an individual shoebox-sized plastic sensory box for your child containing items that will be appealing to them. This box can be labeled with their name on it and easily stored until it is needed.
Remember that sensory rooms are not just helpful for kids with special needs, but can actually be used by people of all ages and all abilities for relaxation, focused work, stimulation, control, and stress release. It may just be the place to send your frazzled children’s volunteer or the perfect refuge for your stressed out pastor. Sensory rooms are the perfect place to help kids of all ages!
Marie Kuck is a Mom on a Mission. She’s the co-founder of Nathaniel’s Hope, a growing national ministry that cheers on and assists kids with special needs and their families and helps churches get equipped to do the same. She anticipates being reunited with her son Nathaniel, who moved to heaven at the age of 4 1/2.
One’s senses are stimulated by a combination of music, lighting effects, gentle vibrations, tactile sensations and aromas.