I’ve been using a lot of sensory stories in my work recently. These are stories that include a variety of multi-sensory interactive elements. They are a great way to provide structure and interest to a session, whilst making it possible to work on a variety of skills relevant to each child. It’s also frees us from reading every word on the page, viewing the storybook as simply the starting point for a narrative adventure.
My favourite aspect of using stories in this way is how often parents feel inspired to create their own. Any story can be developed to include elements that intrigue our senses, whether it’s something visually pleasing, noisy, or even scented. The more senses involved in a story, the more of our brain is engaged and the more we learn and remember.
Choosing your story
Start with a familiar favourite. You can then be sure that your child will be interested and you will know the tory inside out, so that you aren’t pinned to the words on every page. I often choose stories with a very simple plot or with repetitive elements (e.g. a repeated phrase) that children can join in with. For example, in Brown Bear we all ask each animal “What do you see?”.
Setting the scene
Is the story set under water? Or in the forest? I look for something early in the story that can be pulled out of the bag for a ‘ta-da’ moment. For example, in Barry the Fish with Fingers I start with some sparkly blue fabric that the children can help me wave up and down as we go under the sea.
Sharing key elements
Who are the main characters? What is the main event? I often use puppets for key characters and think about how these might move around to convey the story. For example, in Dear Zoo I line up the animals as they are pulled out of the box, so that the children can retell the story at the end, using these visual props.
Spot the interest
I look out for any element, however small, that can be expanded upon to create something fun. For example, in Harold Finds A Voice the parrot imitates the sound of the shower. So, I use a watering can and a shower curtain to recreate this and encourage children to listen and copy my sounds. In Bear Hug the bears catch fish from the river, so we balance our shiny fish on material, and watch as each one hops out.
Keep it simple
Each story can be told with varying complexity, depending on each child. Far more important than accurately sharing every element of the story is to have fun together and peak your child’s interest. Gina Davies talks of offering children an irresistible invitation to learn. Flexible, multi-sensory stories are just such an invitation. Your child will enjoy revisiting the story, offering you many opportunities to repeat and practise together key words, actions or even songs.
Through sensory stories it’s possible to help children make requests, take turns, learn new sounds and express themselves. Have a look at your book collection or think of a favourite story your child enjoys (you don’t even need the book!) I’d love to hear your own book recommendations. You can get in touch with me by email or Twitter.