Presented by Amber Hayden, Royal Blind School librarian
When doing storytelling and literacy work with young people who have multiple disabilities and or visual impairment, we have to work a little harder to bring the story to life for that young person. They might not be able to see the story print or the images in the book so we have to try a little harder to represent imaginary concepts, items that aren’t in the real world next to that young person. We would bring into play all their senses in the best cases to actually allow that young person to experience as fully as possible the reality of that story, so we bring into play all their senses. Things to touch, things to taste, things to listen to, things to smell and all of that would lend to a full round of experiences to that young person and bring the story to life for them.
A very simple way to make any story multi-sensory is to add in other materials and create a small basic kit to get you started. For example, this story is called ‘The Magnetic Banana’. This is about two school boys learning about science, learning about magnetism and having some frolics on the way. To make the story come to life, we add in some real magnets, so pupils who are not familiar with this concept can try feeling, disconnecting, feel the force of the magnet and they can also learn which materials they will stick to by what’s in their environment. Additionally, you can have elements that do appear in the story. In the story a worm is made magnetic. So pupils can feel a worm shaped object. In this case a snake. And you can add in additional elements to further demonstrate aspects of the story. Here we have some metal spoons. There is a scene in a kitchen so the fun and nonsense that the boys would have with being magnetic there. You can add in additional materials as your pupil group needs or when available. For example to add relevance to this story a fresh banana can be around for pupils to feel and have a tactile experience. To smell, hear the peeling and also a possible taste to add another dimension.
An example of a typical sensory story we would use in school would be a box, perhaps as many boxes as you require, depending upon the scale of the story. This story ‘The Genie and the Lamp’ is an experience of the orient, the Far East, an adventure. So there are many opportunities for multisensory experience. It’s an in-house story so not from a printed text. We have the story with a guide to staff, what should occur in the story and which objects they can employ while they are telling it, at which stage. For example fabrics and textures, these can be used for light stimulation with reflection and moved into the pupils field of vision or just be used as a textural, a tactile element that the pupil can feel, to experience something different. Also objects that occur in the story that might be from other cultures or other experiences to add further dimensions for the pupil. This one has a lot of sensory elements in terms of smell, so we’d have a lot of stimulation of smell. This is dried oranges for a good aromatic scent and we have pots of different spices. This would have a further learning element in that all pupils would tend to learn Home Economics in school and cooking skills so an experience of this would supplement that curriculum area also. Obviously stories on this scale can go very large and become very muddled, so in a school setting, it’s very important to keep these organised, so staff know what is in the box, how to run the story and can identify any missing items. We would keep stories organised by having a key card in the box. This would say the title and it would also indicate which senses are being stimulated, in this case, all the senses; touch, sight, even voice, instruments and smell. We would have a list of the elements in each of the boxes so the staff know what is meant to be there and we can keep this on top, or on the edge of the box, so it’s easy to refer to.
An example of a sensory story that can work very well is where you don’t just have a fictional story but also merge into non-fiction and real world learning for other curriculum areas. This story is ‘A Footballer Called Flip’. A funny story about a children’s football team. However this story has been well expanded. We have a book in standard format. We have the book in large print format, so pupils who are able to, can read along with the story. In addition this box contains a braille version of the story, so young people who are braille readers can follow along as well. The whole group accessing equally. The objects in a box like this are selected to demonstrate aspects of the story but also to give the young people who are listening to the story a real experience of the topic and the objects at hand. This box would contain football shin pads and football boots because young people who are visually impaired may not have played football, they may not have played using traditional football equipment. They would have their own version of the game. There would also be paraphernalia associated with football and going to football games. Some more objects that you may use when playing the game and also an actual football. In this case a football such as the young people would use in PE activities with the auditory element. So this is a familiar object from another curriculum area adding more rounded learning to the experience. A further element would be the whistle, giving an auditory element and also real world objects such as training kit, strips to wear and such objects.
When making sensory stories the five key points to remember are:
Read more about Sensory Stories and Kits.