In Industry

In today's fast-paced, digitally dominant world, it's essential to consider and cater for the sensory needs of children to help them thrive and develop to reach their full potential. Sensory-friendly environments are spaces designed to accommodate children with sensory processing sensitivities, autism spectrum disorders, sensory processing disorders, or other sensory challenges.

Creating environments like these – at home, nursery, school or hospital - can make a massive difference for children. Sensory-friendly environments can benefit all children, not only those with sensory sensitives, by increasing their comfort, supporting learning, and boosting overall well-being. The team at GreatBeanBags, specialists in medical and sensory bean bags, have created a handy guide sharing ten different ways to create a sensory-friendly environment for kids:

1. Understand a child's sensory needs:

The first step in creating a sensory-friendly environment is to understand the sensory needs of the child or children you're making the space for. You may already understand the child and their specific sensitivities, or it could be helpful to take some time to observe the child day-to-day and take some notes. This reflection will help you create a plan and consider all the elements of the space and what it needs before setting it up.

2. Create sensory zones:

A sensory-friendly space should have different 'zones' catering to various activities. This visual separation makes it very clear to children which zone they can use depending on their feelings. For example, designating a quiet zone for relaxation and calming down, a sensory-rich area for stimulating experiences such as making music and a tactile zone for hands-on activities like learning and crafts.

3. Think about noise control:

Noise levels can be a big deal for children with sensory challenges, so make sure you minimise noise as much as possible by using sound-absorbing furnishings such as rugs, curtains, and acoustic panels. Adding noise-cancelling headphones or ear plugs is also a good idea to allow children to block out noise entirely.

4. Consider sensory-friendly lighting:

When it comes to lighting, consider softer, adjustable lighting over bright, glaring light that can't be toned down. The ability to adjust the lighting to suit the activity for which the space is being used is essential. Muted, softer lighting suits relaxation time, whereas being able to turn the lights brighter is more appropriate for learning-based activities. You should also consider the amount of natural light in the space and whether there's a need for blackout blinds or curtains – depending on the child's preferences.

5. Sensory toys and tools:

Toys and tools that help children self-regulate are important in a sensory space, so consider adding various objects like fidget tools, stress balls, textured items, and tactile boards. These all help children engage with their senses and provide feedback to their sensory systems.

6. Comfortable seating:

All sensory spaces should have soft and comfortable seating, like bean bags and soft cushions, that can easily move around the room and help children feel safe and secure. Waterproof bean bags with sealed seams are a good option, as they're comfortable and easy to clean. The ability to easily clean furniture and equipment is vital for nursery, school, play gym or hospital settings.

7. Choose calming colours:

Aim to decorate the sensory space in neutral, calming colours that promote a relaxing environment. Pastel colours, or those inspired by nature, are also ideal for sensory areas. However, avoid making the space so colourful that it looks distracting and overwhelming. Avoid using too many bright, bold and harsh colours like reds, bright blues and greens.

8. Add visual supports:

Visual support can help reduce anxiety and improve communication, so adding these to a sensory-friendly space is essential. These visual supports could include schedules, social stories and visual timers to help children understand routines and transitions within the environment.

9. Select sensory-friendly materials:

Choosing the right, non-irritating materials and textures for the space will help children feel comfortable. Avoid harsh fabrics and surfaces and opt for softer, lighter fabrics that feel satisfying to touch – such as silk, cotton, velvet and cashmere – all of which evoke a strong tactile sensation.

10. Get your child involved with personalisation:

For the finishing touches, get your child or children involved in personalising the space to suit them. This way, they'll be more engaged when they come to use the area, and it will help give them a feel for it before they use it. Let them choose colours, decorations, and sensory elements they love to help make the space as comfortable as possible.

Once you've set up your sensory-friendly space, the most important thing to do is test it out and then adapt and modify it as needed. Remember that each child is unique and has different needs and preferences. What works for one child may not work for another, so if you're creating a sensory space for multiple children, it's a good idea to consider each child's needs and preferences.