Sunday, 14 January 2018


Hi everyone, we're back! Happy New Year! Sorry for the length of time away it's just been incredibly busy. After Christmas a whole new management team started at school which is great but lots of changes for the better mean lots of work!

I've also got a uni deadline creeping up, Tuesday actually. This is more of an informal style piece outlining two contrasting opinions on inclusion. It's about a disabled swimmer who wants to join the swimming competition team but has been advised he should join the team for disabled swimmers. It has started me thinking about inclusion as a broad topic and has also reminded me that Hannah and I have Colley and Imray's book Inclusion is Dead: Long Live Inclusion still waiting to be read!

Our school was recently split up into needs based classes. Hannah and I had up until that point taught mixed ability classes and in all honesty found it really difficult to effectively teach the broad needs in the class. Some needed highly sensory and stimulating environments, others needed low arousal and very structured style of teaching, some had behavioural needs which often took your attention away from the children with PMLD and many more issues. It was a challenge. Hannah now has a class of mixed age children with PMLD all of whom have physical disabilities and many have complex medical needs. I teach the secondary complex needs class. Many of my pupils have autism as well as severe learning difficulties, ADHD and some with physical disabilities. They are a complicated but fabulous bunch. Our new head of school has previously led in our sister school with children of similar needs and abilities but in mixed classes. His vision is to ensure that pupils in the school are more integrated. It was received with a look of fear but in fact I think he has a point. Due to some incidents from a couple of the children with behavioural needs which questioned the safety element of mixing a couple of years ago, both groups of children have been kept apart. We haven't even had a sports day for a number of years.

The first introduction in the first week back was a whole school tuck shop. The senior pupils cook items for the tuck shop and develop their preparation for work skills by running it which is great and the rest of the school comes along and mixes with each other. I really think this is a good way forward, not mixing the classes to still ensure pupils get their learning, health, physical, communication needs met in the best possible environment but we need to plan for opportunities for our pupils to mix.

It got me thinking about the mainstream vs special school debate. I can go back through history to the closure of many special schools, the Warnock report etc but I won't bore you too much, worth a read if you're interested. For my university course I have to conduct an interview with someone who has contrasting opinions and experiences to me in regard to inclusion. In my opinion and through my experiences a special school is a fantastic environment for pupils with SLD and PMLD to thrive so I wanted to speak to a parent of a child with SLD or PMLD who is educated in a mainstream school. I sent out a search on twitter and have spoken to various other professionals but haven't managed to find any. Are children with PMLD simply not educated in mainstream schools? Does this mean they never see pupils from mainstream schools? In all honesty, our pupils don't. They meet members of the community out and about but not young people their own age.

By the way...if you do have a child with SLD/ PMLD who is educated in mainstream PLEASE get in touch with me!

Inclusion is a tricky one, participation is another. For inclusion to be effective you want the children to be active participants. If they are just being 'wheeled around' or 'parked' in an environment with other mainstream peers is that being inclusive?

We struggle with inclusive attitudes sometimes within our community. I take a group of my young people into the community every day to develop road awareness, to increase their tolerance of sensory stimulating environments, to develop basic life skills and much more. But importantly for the community to see them, I will not hide my children away, I want them to leave school and be able to positively integrate with the rest of society without prejudice. However, sadly I have had some issues as recently as last week. We used to take our pupils to church for Harvest Festival, Easter and Christmas (sadly this stopped but will hopefully start up again), the church community tried their best to provide a sensory and stimulating church service (sometimes didn't quite manage it but they tried really hard) then they provided food and drinks for us in their church hall which was lovely. We took a small group of our children to their coffee morning last week. One of my older pupils with complex ASD and ADHD was very excited, loudly vocalising his pleasure, bouncing up and down, making his physical gestures to demonstrate happiness. He was supported by two adults. The church phoned and made a complaint that this child was scaring their other customers. I was so saddened by this. They welcome children from school with open arms during a service especially for them but they're not so welcome during normal hours. How sad that a community group that knows our children still can't accept them for who they are. We have had other issues with the soft play centre. I know our children are older than their age limit but developmentally they are much much younger. I explained the benefits and they allowed us to go along. In the end they suggested we had a separate session. They open especially for us every week which is great and my class get so much from going it's just sad they haven't managed to integrate us with others.

We need more acceptance of our children for who they are, I won't stop taking them out into the community and I will try to make links with other mainstream children. As my children are secondary ages I can perceive having more difficulty with this but I will try. I look to Parallel London, an event designed to accept and celebrate everyone standing side by side whether able bodied or not everyone was an equal. Let's all try our best to proudly encourage our children to become active members of society alongside everyone else and encourage more events, initiatives, groups, facilities that celebrate everyone as an equal as much as Parallel do. You can find our blog post on Parallel London here. 

Lincolnshire is slow on the uptake but I know around the country there are many wonderful facilities and events for people with disabilities and learning difficulties. Another local soft play centre and the swimming pool have disability and special needs sessions. This is definitely step 1, they are recognising that our children may perceive the world differently and need different things to support them such as low level music or lighting or physical things such as hoists and changing facilities (again Lincolnshire slow on the uptake) but isn't that still segregation in a way? How many years into the future do you think it will be when people with additional needs and disabilities are considered and planned for by everyone so there doesn't have to be special events or last minute considerations, parents and teachers don't have to spend time worrying and extensively planning ways to get around problems. When will our special young people be automatically viewed as equal members of society with equal opportunities and all barriers to their inclusion and access to society removed. I'm not sure it's been fully thought through. Any film or TV show you watch that's set in the future with robots and aliens...where are our special young people and adults? Our children are getting more complex, there is an increase in young people with PMLD. I hope the future generations and our future universe are planning for this!

And to everyone who is out there fighting for inclusion and campaigning for changing spaces and much more...keep up the amazing work! To everyone who is standing up for the rights of their children to be included...keep us the amazing work! To everyone who has joined the Raising the Bar Facebook group and is backing the movement for improved care standards for our children, young people and adults with PMLD...keep up the amazing work! There is so much good out there already and I'm sure 2018 will be a year of progress.

Anyway, I've done enough distracting myself from my assignment, I'd better get back to it. Any thoughts on what I've written do message us on twitter or Facebook.

I will leave you with my resolutions for the year

  • To become a better teacher, I think this will be a resolution for the rest of my life as special needs practices continue to evolve
  • To develop my knowledge of sensory rooms and support staff in my school to effectively use our new room
  • To speak to and meet more fantastic parents and practitioners to share with and learn from. 
  • To develop more links with the community and provide my children with more opportunities
  • To be present in the moment when I'm with my children. Put work deadlines and other stresses to the back of my mind and be solely with the children. 
  • To be more organised! Although my TAs do a good job of organising me
  • It should probably be to have more of a work life balance but I'm not sure that's an achievable one! 

Monday, 11 December 2017

An Autumn/ Winter sensory story

2 posts in 2 days we are doing fairness this is one I've been meaning to post for a while now! It's just a quick one.

I just thought I'd share with you all this term's sensory story in my class of secondary pupils with CLDD. They are absolutely loving it, even more than my previous sensory stories, an example of which can be found here or on TES: sensory_dispensary.

I have typed it up with all the senses and what I am looking for which really helps my team make good observations and understand the 'why imperative' which underpins everything we do in class and highlights the real benefits of sensory stories.

This term's topic has been 'Seasons'. I started writing this story beginning with the sensory experiences and then adding the language. The structure isn't amazing and it doesn't flow quite how I wanted it to but my children absolutely love the sensory experiences and have responded really well which is the main thing! I have seen great progress in signing, one child is generalising the signing of more from just food to sensory experiences too, increased visual awareness which many of my pupils with complex ASD struggle with. Overall I'm just so pleased with this story and wanted to share it with you all. If anyone is doing seasons in the future and uses it, please let me know how you get on! You can find the story on TES here.

We have been busy the last couple of weeks designing, resourcing and making our Christmas Sensory stories. We are really proud of how they have turned out. They feature 9 different sensory items across 6 of the senses. The packs come ready to go with the items, a laminated story for future use, a recipe card and an information card about the 'why and how imperative' behind sensory stories. We have sold quite a few packs to teachers and parents across the county and we hope many special and wonderful children are enjoying them. We are taking two packs into school for our classes tomorrow! One lady sent us a lovely and excited message this morning after receiving hers and another photo this evening and even her cat was enjoying exploring the sensory items!. We still have a few available if you would like to purchase one, just drop us a message. They are £25 plus £2.90 postage and packaging.

Have a great week everyone and thank you for the lovely feedback regarding Hannah's post on happiness. I join you all, it is so beautifully written and really highlights the importance of mental health and well being and how it should be a more widely discussed topic. You can read her blog post here.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Happiness is the key!

This is the first blog of many that we will be writing inspired by Flo Longhorn’s ‘No Ticks, no boxes’ conference which took place last week. One of the key themes of the conference this time was promoting happiness and positive mental health and well-being for all Sensory Beings. We garnered lots of ideas and inspiration from the conference and have already set about putting some of these into action with our pupils.

Ellen Croft, PMLD Curriculum Leader and Specialist Leader of Education at Ash Field Academy, shared with us some startling figures with us regarding mental health:
“Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. In England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week. Children and adults with learning disabilities and other forms of disabilities are not exempt from this. (Source: People with Learning Disabilities in England 2011).Children with SEN are up to 6 times more likely to experience mental health problems than their peers.  Children and young people with learning disabilities are much more likely than others to live in poverty, to have few friends and to have additional long term health problems and disabilities such as epilepsy and sensory impairments.” 
With these alarming figures in mind it is more important than ever that we carefully consider the happiness and well-being of those Sensory Beings we support. In my experience this is an area that can tend to be overlooked in education as the focus is too often placed disproportionately on a drive for academic progress, data and achieving a positive grading from Ofsted! As front-line practitioners we need to be carrying the banner for these issues and ensuring we are promoting these issues within our settings. So… what can we do to achieve this? During the conference many different strategies and resources were shared many of which are quick and easy to put into practice. 

Happiness (and unhappiness!) audit 

Lucy and I first came across the Happiness Audit at a Saturday pop-up workshop in Cambridge with Flo Longhorn and Les Staves a couple of years ago (you can read more about this in a previous blog post here). The Happiness audit was created by Flo Longhorn and is a way of assessing the preferences of the Sensory Beings you support including: sensory stimuli, communication and the environment. This tool will assist you to support your learner’s emotional happiness and enable you to provide engaging and personalised learning opportunities. 

This would be a great activity to discuss together with parents and those who have worked closely with the Sensory Being(s) you are going to be supporting in your setting. Why not hold a meet and greet or ‘getting to know you’ meeting. Your own observations will then add to and enrich this working document. The Happiness Audit would also be informative for new members of staff, volunteers and anyone who will be working with the Sensory Being. Flo explained that Sensory Beings ‘may sometimes portray the opposite of what they actually feel emotionally’. This makes it all the more important to record and share not only  the preferences of our learners but what it looks like when a learner likes or dislikes a particular stimuli. For example, in a recent conversation I had with a parent they relayed to me how their child’s new taxi escort had been following her advice to play music on the journey which the child hugely enjoys. However, the taxi escort had in fact struggled to find any songs or music that the child enjoyed- every song played would result in the child pressing her fingers in her ears and vocalising. The taxi escort had interpreted this behaviour as showing dislike towards the music and would change the music at which point the child would often became upset. When the taxi escort relayed this information to the child’s mother, she explained that her daughter presses her fingers in her ears only when she is enjoying the music! As Flo explains, ‘observations need to be ongoing and open to unexpected interpretations of happiness’.

At the conference Ellen Croft explained how she used the Happiness Audit tool and also created an additional ‘unhappiness audit’ to highlight those areas which individuals may dislike so that stimuli the individual finds unpleasant can be avoided. Regularly update these audits and, as mentioned in a previous post, don’t be afraid to offer certain experiences a learner may have shown dislike to in the past where appropriate as preferences may change over time. You can find a copy of the Happiness Audit here along with a completed example and further information.  

Mindfulness-  Take five!

In last week’s post Lucy discussed how Ellen Croft had stuck to her guns with her usual practice of 5 minutes of silence at the end of an (Ofsted observed) TACPAC session with great success! I immediately implemented this strategy at the end of my story massage session on Monday morning. The impact was immediately visible… and audible! The children soon noticed the silence and began vocalising and moving about, they began interacting with each other’s vocalisations, there were frequent giggles from one pupil and two children took it in turns blowing raspberries. It really was a joy to observe. This can then lead into a great opportunity to engage in intensive interaction.
The benefits of this session were not only limited to the pupils in my class either. Members of my staff team commented on how they themselves found it to be calming to be able take just 5 minutes of quiet time in what is typically a very busy and active day. Positive mental health and well-being is important for us too! Joanna Grace comments on this very issue in her book ‘Sensory-being for Sensory Beings’ (2017) explaining how those we support are affected by our own anxiety levels. By taking time in this way, we put ourselves in a better position to support our pupils. I highly recommend you give this simple activity a go in your own setting whether it is at home, in a school or care setting. Be sure to let us know how you get on! 

Empower your pupils to access and be part of the world around them. Many of our pupils have a multiplicity of impairments: visual, auditory, limited mobility... each of these have the potential to isolate and alienate our pupils from the world around them. Provide resources that can bring the world to them in a way that is meaningful and motivating. These resources need not cost the earth. You can find a variety of different ideas in previous posts and in our recommended books including Sensory umbrellas, whisks and shoe boxes (ideas from Flo Longhorn), Smell noodles and scent shakers (ideas from Joanna Grace)*. Put your newly made Happiness Audits into action and get busy crafting!

Exciting news… Core and Essential Service Standards

We were really excited to hear from Joanna Grace about the new ‘Supporting people with profound and multiple learning disabilities Core & Essential Service Standards’ published  at the end of last month. You can download a copy hereJoanna co-authored the standards with Dr Thomas Doukas (Head of Inclusive Research & Involvement, Choice Support), Annie Fergusson (Senior Lecturer SEN and Inclusion, University Of Northampton PMLD Link Journal And Family Carer) And Michael Fullerton (Director of Quality and Clinical Care, Care Management Group). 
“The Core and Essential Service Standards are designed to create a means for Commissioners of education, health and social care to work closely in partnership with service providers to ensure the best possible outcomes for people being supported. Through Commissioners and providers having shared expectations and standards of service delivery I can ensure that wherever a person lives, they can expect similarly high standards.” 
(Supporting people with profound and multiple learning disabilities. Core & Essential Service Standards 1st Edition, November 2017)
The standards cover 7 areas of Leadership, Quality, Staff Development, Physical Environment, Communication, Health and Wellbeing, Social, Community and Family Life and are designed to be used to evaluate and evidence the practice of settings supporting people with PMLD, highlighting both areas of strength and those areas which need development. These standards will help to ensure that we strive for and more consistently achieve the best practice in all settings supporting those with PMLD. Make sure you download your copy; share it with your SLT Monday morning and pop a copy in the staff room!

And finally…

It will be of no surprise that the majority of parent responses to our survey on ‘Educational outcomes for pupils with special educational needs’  indicated that they felt the greatest need to their child's education was happiness. We must take time to nurture and develop happiness opportunities for both our pupils and ourselves ensuring that we allow moments of time for quiet mindfulness and recuperation alongside active, exciting, sensory stimulating activities.  

Monday, 4 December 2017

An Autumn TACPAC

Hi everyone, sorry this blog post is so delayed, it has been an incredibly busy three weeks. I (Lucy) was performing as Lily St Regis in Annie for a two week run and last week we were at Flo Longhorn's latest conference No Ticks No boxes providing Winter Wonderland sensory play experiences as well as telling everyone all about Sensory Dispensary and the projects we have on the go. We will discuss the conference in more detail in future posts, if you want a quick overview find us on twitter @sensorydispense I tried to keep everyone as up to date as I could.

Today, I am going to share this terms TACPAC with you. My class are a group of 8 pupils with CLDD most of whom have complex autism, are non verbal and have many sensory processing difficulties. They are ages between year 7 and 9 so are at a difficult stage in their teenage lives.

I have a group of 3 pupils who get a lot from my TACPAC sessions, they are highly sensory children who often seek tactile and proprioceptive activities. They all have very delayed interaction with adults, they are introverted and we are working towards gesturing wants, needs and preferences to adults.

Our topic this term is seasons so I have put together an Autumn TACPAC. It has been going really well so far. My children are developing favourite resources and are communicating on which part of the body they would like it. I use a lot of burst pause throughout my TACPAC sessions to encourage them to initiate communication and interaction with me. There is a lot of debate and questioning at the minute about what 'lessons' and 'learning' for children and young people with PMLD/ CLDD should like like in terms of formality and objective learning. I think TACPAC is a lovely session for the children to develop communication in their own way and lead their own learning in a calming and encouraging environment. I find the repetitive and trusting environment created with a child and adult promoted communication development. There may be no symbols or pictures or instructions as to what you want the pupil to do but you are providing the child an opportunity to learn they can control something and develop their own preferences which I think is vital.

The fabulous Ellen Croft from Ash Field School in Leicester spoke about their recent Ofsted visit. Ellen was worried when the Ofsted inspector came to observe a TACPAC session but decided to go ahead with it anyway. I think as PMLD teachers we often worry about what observers think, especially if they are not familiar with what PMLD 'teaching' looks like and what our children's learning and progress looks like. Often the huge steps of progress, sometimes a child smiling consistently at their favourite part and smiling in anticipation are missed. However add a switch or a PECS symbol and it looks more like a familiar and traditional special needs lesson. Ellen did a TACPAC session for the Ofsted inspector and maybe for the first time ever the inspector said that he was moved by the session. Not only did Ellen complete her TACPAC session but she also added 5 minutes of silence. Silence is brilliant for a child's mental health and wellbeing. Classrooms can be incredibly busy and children with PMLD spend much of their time being cared for and supported. They aren't very often left to their own devices to explore and learn about themselves. She finds that during these silent periods, the children explore their own sounds and interact with each other which is great. Hannah tried this in her class today and it worked amazingly. I tried it too but it wasn't so successful, but we will definitely try again tomorrow! It is a lesson that there is no such thing as downtime (in the words of Peter Imray) but opportunity for developing self awareness. We are often told that every minute matters and that the children should be learning and busy during every minute of the day but we must not forget the value of quiet.

Anyway, this is my TACPAC this term. I didn't make the tracks this time, they are from Youtube so I will also share the links below. Sorry there are no photos, I will try and remember to take some tomorrow!

In the garden on an autumn afternoon.

Track 1: The conkers are falling to the ground  marbles in sock tied up (feet)
Do they children seek to explore using their hands? Do they anticipate the feeling of the marbles dropping on them gently? Do they have a preference to heavy/ gentle, fast/ slow? Do they communicate they want the feeling on a different part of their bodies?

Track 2: I can hear the hedgehogs rustling through the leaves – spikey ring (legs)
Do they react? Do they have a preference of where they would like the feeling? Do they prefer gentle or firm?

Track 3: Pull your woolly jumper on it’s getting cold out here – soft wool (neck)
Do they anticipate? Do they react if it tickles or feels nice? Do they communicate where they want it? Do they seek to explore the wool in different ways?

Track 4: Dad is sweeping up the leaves – massage scraper tool (arms)
Do they anticipate and hold their arm out? Do they have a favourite arm or place? Do they prefer gentle or firm?

Track 5: Quick, did you see that squirrel run up the tree – feather duster (all over)
Do they anticipate? Do they react and make communication if it tickles? Do they have a preferred place?

Track 6: I am busy collecting the pine cones that have fallen to the ground - pine cone (hands)
Do they hold their hands out ready? Do they like to explore independently?

Track 7: It’s time to go inside now it’s starting to rain – wet sponge (face and hair)
Do they anticipate? Do they explore in alternative ways? Do they communicate if they don’t like it?

The tracks are not in order as I renamed them on my computer! Match them up to the items you think fit. 

For more information about the theory behind TACPAC or to purchase any of the official packs/ the assessment tools visit their website. TACPAC also deliver training courses and in house training. 

Today we have uploaded our new sensory story sack 'One Christmas' to our Facebook shop. We have written this story and have made 40 story sacks complete with all of the resources including the laminated story, information about the how and whys of sensory stories and a recipe card. We are really proud of these and will be using them in class with our children. They are £25 plus postage and packaging. All handmade with love, we feel they would make lovely Christmas activities/ gifts for any sensory being. For more details message us on Facebook or Twitter

We have also made a new dispense the sense card pack featuring activities for holidays throughout the year. This pack is £4.50 including postage and packaging. Again handmade with love. 

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Book review: Sensory-Being for Sensory Beings: Creating Entrancing Sensory Experiences by Joanna Grace

In this post I’ll be reviewing a book I bought over the summer by Joanna Grace. If you read the blog regularly you’ll know it’s not the first time we have referenced Joanna Grace. I promise we are not paid to advertise or say nice things about Jo or her work! The fact that we do, is simply a testament to her exceptional knowledge and understanding of this area and the tremendous support she offers.


 I first came by the author of this book, Joanna Grace, in the special needs section of the TES forum a few years ago. I was at the very start of my career in special needs teaching and looking for support and guidance. Lucy and I began working at our current school at the same time in the same class. Lucy had already been working in SEN in a school for children with Autism and within her role in a mainstream school and I had limited experience having worked in a mainstream school for two years. Faced with a new challenge of teaching a class of children with SLD and PMLD in year 3 and 4, I had been busy planning over the summer following the advice of one of my new colleagues to plan for low ability. Well, after day one it was immediately clear that I had pitched my planning entirely wrong and was in need of help! Particularly stumped on how best to meet the need of my pupils with PMLD, I logged on to TES and looked in the SEN forum seeking some advice on planning and teaching my new class. The user ‘Jo3Grace’ regularly popped up offering a great deal of insight as well as materials and resources available from Jo herself and others. The advice gained enabled Lucy and me a starting point and some direction of where to find out more. The more we researched and discovered the deeper our interest grew and more passionate we became.

Joanna Grace is the founder of the Sensory Projects, International Inclusion & Sensory Engagement Specialist, Trainer and author. You can find out more and find lots of useful information and resources on her website many of which are free. You can also reach her directly on Facebook and Twitter which I have always found helpful when searching for more specific advice. I would also highly recommend attending one of Joanna’s courses. 

Sensory-being for Sensory Beings is the second of Joanna’s books and is a real hands-on guide for anyone who supports a ‘Sensory Being’. Joanna’s term of ‘Sensory Beings’ includes not only those individuals with PMLD, but also infants, those with later stage dementia as Jo explains anyone who ‘understands the world in a primarily sensory way’. Informed by a team of Sensory Being Consultants, the book explores the sensory world and the natural mastery that these individuals have of being truly present in the moment a type of mindfulness or, the term used by Joanna: ‘sensory-being’. This is a skill that many of us struggle with in our busy lives. Throughout the book there are comments from parents and practitioners which are useful and provide extra insight to the material being explored. 

Early on in the book Joanna explores the concept of ‘parked time’. This happens all too often with individuals with PMLD. There are a whole host of reasons for this: limited staffing with individuals who often need 1:1 support to be able to access experiences, mixed ability classes where the learning and behaviour needs of their more able peers are often given priority, waiting in corridors etc. This is something that is always of concern to me, as I’m sure it is to everyone who supports Sensory Beings, but sometimes it can be bewildering as to how to go about eradicating this parked time which Joanna explains is potentially damaging to the mental health and well-being of these individuals. The solution? Careful planning and resourcing which meets the unique needs of the individuals you support. This raised the second issue that resonated with me in the book- the great expense of any resources designed for Sensory Beings. While many of these resources are engaging and offer great sensory delight to the Sensory Beings I support, the high price tag simply makes them unaffordable.

 Joanna Grace sheds some light on this predicament. She explores each the 7 senses in a detailed yet easy to understand manner and touches on other senses too (it turns out there are a lot more than the 7 senses I previously thought there were!). Together with each sense explored are practical ideas for stimuli that can be used to engage the particular sense. There is a practitioner tip at the opening of this section of the book to have a pen and paper to hand and a particular Sensory Being in mind to create your sensory shopping list! I would highly recommend doing this- it helps to keep you focused and, if you’re anything like Lucy and I, prevents you from breaking the bank buying every sensory goody you come across when out and about! All the resources suggested are tried and tested, backed by theory and yes… low-cost! While some of the resources require a little time to put together something special, Joanna explains that the process of crafting these items can in itself be a great opportunity for sensory-being/mindfulness. I know that we always enjoy the process of making our sensory resources- the creating process is quite satisfying! 

I found this book to be a really effective guide to supporting individuals with PMLD, providing both the practical and the underpinning theory necessary to truly understand the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of what we offer these individuals. This closely relates to our own values at Sensory Dispensary- we often discuss why we do activities such as sensory play. It is important to have this understanding in order to best select the experiences, activities and resources suited to each unique individual. Having ready to use and affordable ideas for resources and activities is always going to be a winner. My copy of this book has been on holiday with me, car journeys and out and about and I often find myself referring back to it! If you support a Sensory Being I would highly recommend you give ‘Sensory-being for Sensory Beings’ a read. 

You can purchase the book here (add it to your Christmas wishlist!)

Tuesday, 7 November 2017


Last week both mine and Lucy's classrooms had a spooky makeover! A combination of cobwebs, lights and pumpkins helped to set the scene for our Halloween themed week of Explore and Discover sessions. Many thanks to my team for staying late to achieve this transformation! 
(Lots of time spent by a TA here weaving lights through these pumpkins to create our pumpkin chandelier)

(Sorry the pictures don't really do their work justice)

Explore and Discover:

There are lots of different recipes out there for slime but consider the needs of your class when selecting which one to use. If you have pupils who like to eat the materials they explore I wouldn't advise using this one as whilst the ingredients aren't harmful to ingest, they are not edible. We used 2 variations of a recipe for these slimes. You can find the original recipe in Pack 1 of our Dispense the Sense cards available to buy here or by contacting us on our Facebook page. To make the putty version simply add shaving foam to the recipe.

                                           Putty slime!

This slime was more stiff and reminded me of a putty-like texture. It had less stretch but the children really enjoyed squashing, squeezing and mark making. Turning the slime containers upside down to get the slime out was fun too as it temporarily kept the containers shape before melting back into it's putty puddle. 

Tapping fingers into the slime also left marks that lasted a minute before vanishing, making a fun mark making activity.

For my more dexterous pupils I bought these lovely Halloween cutters from ASDA for just £1.00. This putty slime was thick enough to use with the cutters and you could pull the excess away with ease- no sticking at all! We had some sieves for a different element of this session but one of my pupil was quick to put them to work on the slime and enjoyed watching the slime bulge through the holes and leave a lovely bumpy pattern.

Lots of opportunities for exploration and discovery here at different levels to suit differing needs: tactile and proprioceptive stimulation, mark making, exploring shape and developing fine motor skills to name just a few!

Stretchy slime

The second slime was far more stretchy than the first and even my support staff had a hard time putting it down! This particular slime would stretch and dribble down but remain in long (non-sticky!) strings. It was a really interesting texture that all pupils were keen to explore the properties of. We plopped the slime into a sieve and sure enough long ribbons of slime stretched down to the floor without snapping. This was visually mesmerising as it oozed down and gathered in a noodle-like bunch in the tray below. Letting the cool slime fall in this way onto hands was a strange sensation. As an extension for those who may be working on fine motor skills, you can add in your 'squeeze' easy grip scissors to snip these slime ribbons. 

Pumpkin mash

This was the creation of one of the TAs in my team who was tasked with making a pumpkin slime. The whole pumpkin was chopped up and boiled, mashed, cornflour added and mixed spice stirred in creating a wonderful aroma. A few people did comment on how delicious it smelled but it viusally reminded them of something less pleasant! On the training day, when it was made, it was a slime but by the following day when we uncovered it was much more of a solid lump. We dubbed the mix 'pumpkin mash' and offered an array of tools with it for our sensory beings to explore. This is a fab one to try for those who cannot resist having a taste- I did try it myself... lovely flavour but with the texture of glue. As with the other activities this is a great tactile experience but also great for the olfactory and gustatory senses. Where relevant, there are opportunities to practice those fine motor skills, scooping, mashing and stirring it in the cauldron. 

Apple bobbing...ish

We created our own version of apple bobbing. We added black food dye and glitter to the water to make our bubbling brew before adding red and green apples in and a few other scary surprises (spooky toy spiders etc) . The water was warm for those who wanted to reach in with their hands. We also had sieves to scoop and drain the apples out. 

We had a linked activity to this one- tasting the sweet red apples and sour green ones as well as trying some toffee sauce and pumpkin seeds. Some of my pupils are not able to eat solids so we had apple and toffee sauce to try for these pupils which went down a treat!

 Spashing in the warm water, scooping and dropping apples, observing them bobbing up and down was an experience in itself. You could also add in 'Crackle Baff'  to create a crackling auditory experience (popping candy would also work but is short-lived). There was the option to extend this task into shape exploration and colour sorting. I left the red and green sieves, as well as a red and green tray next to the tub to allow them to sort in this way. It's quite easy to make this into a fun game for SLD pupils who need further challenging and enjoy imaginative play- become a wicked witch with a shopping list! Can they match your picture shopping list? Perhaps your recipe only calls for the green apples or only items that float at the top- can they scoop/sort accordingly? It maybe you need exact quantities- cant they count out the right amount of each item. Plenty of scope for simplifying or extending this activity according to your pupils needs and liking!

My class had an absolute hoot in our Halloween Explore & Discover sessions and they weren't the only ones. Lucy's class were getting stuck in with their sensory delights. Some of our readers have also kindly sent in their own pictures and videos of the sensory treats they had on offer for the sensory beings they support. Check out the pictures and videos below!

Lucy's Hallo-scream of a sensory umbrella!

A spook-tacular selection above from Lucy's classroom!

This sensory cauldron from Sarah Alderman 
looks a great 'eye'-dea!

What a  fang-tastic sensory umbrella from Leigh Downs!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

TES SEN Show part 2 - Soundbeam and Evidence for Learning

I hope those of you on half term have had a lovely relaxing week. I would like to say mine has been relaxing but far from it. We've been busy making Dispense the Sense activity cards which we have for sale and also ready for upcoming events as well as planning for Christmas sensory stories and 12 days of Christmas activity boxes. Then we've been preparing for Flo's conference at the end of November. As well as general school work, rehearsing for Annie which I am performing in November and general life... well it's been busy and has flown by. 

I have planned a new autumn themed TACPAC and sensory story so will share those with you over the up and coming weeks (don't forget we have TACPAC and story massage resources free to download from our TES page - sensory_dispensary). We also have a few people interested in writing guest blogs which will be very exciting. If you have anything you would like to share or write about on our blog, please get in touch with us. Or if you have any topics you would like us to write about, please let us know. 

Anyway, the topic of today's post is the 2nd half of the TES SEN Show, I know it feels like forever ago now. 

Firstly, I wanted to talk about Soundbeam. Many of you will have probably heard of soundbeam and I hope it is in every school around the country, although I know it's not as we don't have one. 

'Soundbeam is an award-winning 'touch free' device which uses sensor technology to translate body movement into music and sound. It gives children and adults the opportunity, regardless of their impairments or disability, to play music.' 

Welch et al (2001) undertook a nation-wide research project known as PROMISE (Provision of Music in Special Education) which was funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Trust and supported by the Royal Institute for the Blind. 53 special schools across the country took part. The findings were mixed. They found that only 5% of participating children received music therapy. We all hear how beneficial it is however it's not so easy to gain funding for this and also very difficult to find a qualified music therapist. One of our partner schools employs an amazing music therapist for one or two days a week but he works all over and says himself that he is in such high demand as there is a lack of trained music therapists in our area and I'm sure many others. 

The results highlighted that headteachers placed a high value on music as part of their curriculum however there were no specific models of music curriculum as such designed for pupils with SLD or PMLD. The resources and types of music delivered in the participating schools were mainly percussion. The majority of music coordinators had no qualifications in music and music CPD was seen as 'adhoc' and depended mainly on local provision. 

It was also noted that music is a significant component in the daily lives of many of our pupils; radio in the morning at home, music played on the taxi, signify songs throughout the day, their favourite music incorporated into the day. I know we use music all the time. I'm sure Jo Grace would also add that music is a great way to support mental health and wellbeing. I'm going to bring out my inner teenager here and embarrassingly refer to One Tree Hill. One Tree Hill as a TV programme that related to me during my teenage years and had an inner theme of music. They portrayed the effect music has on people including young people growing up and learning to deal with the problems life throws at them. Music was seen as a healing power due to its relatable song lyrics and its power to set or change a mood. Music can set the 'feel' of an environment, as teachers, Hannah and I often use music for this reason. We are aware of how powerful our sense of smell is as it is linked to the emotional part of our brain and can transport us back to a memory. I think music can do the same for a lot of people, it definitely does for me. I have seen the power of music for my pupils, by the end of this term some of my class were responding to my signify songs for the start and end of a session. One of Hannah's pupils loves music, the music played or sung to her can often determine her mood. She knows what she likes and more importantly what she doesn't like!

So how can we incorporate effective music provision into the curriculum for our learners with SLD and PMLD? I think Soundbeam is a wonderful example of this. Soundbeam equipment allows our pupils with learning and physical disabilities to make music. It is a control box and sensor beams that track any movement the pupil makes to create sound. The 'beams' are incredibly clever, as demonstrated to us at the TES SEN Show. They are adjustable in order to be personal to every pupil. The length of the beam sensors can be altered for each child for those who whizz around the room to motivate them to control their movement within a smaller area or the sensitivity can be adapted such as for a child with very limited movement. There are so many learning opportunities to be gained by exploring this equipment, the first and most important I think is that the child can have completely independent control. In a world where they rely on others for so much, it is lovely to watch someone with PMLD, perhaps after hundreds of attempts, learn that they are controlling something. How about have them in charge of music in assemblies or the school nativity, record their own CD. I just think it's lovely. 

I have no training in music, and being honest I have always found music sessions for my SLD classes difficult beyond the drumming call and response rhythm type activities. But the lovely lady on the stall gave me the confidence and that's what is brilliant about Soundbeam, that you don't have to be an expert and you need no training. It is so simple to use and is led by the child! 

We are currently fundraising for a Soundbeam, hopefully by the end of the year we will have it and can share with you the impact it has for our pupils. If you have any stories of using Soundbeam, please share them, we would love to hear them. You can also view many lovely videos on their website. Make sure also take a look at their autumn newsletter here

Cheng et al (2009) Researching and developing music provision in Special Schools in England for children and young people with complex needs, Australian Journal of Music Education 2(22) 

Another topic I would like to talk about is recording of evidence. We currently use tapestry, however we feel it has many limitations. Hannah had read up a little on Evidence for Learning and when we spotted them at TES SEN Show, we were quick to head over and pick their brains. 

Evidence for learning is an IPAD app assessment record tool similar to Tapestry. However, there are notable differences. Firstly, Evidence for Learning is a system which can be personalised to each child, where as Tapestry was designed for the EYFS framework although I know it also includes the p-scales. Well we all know they are on their way out anyway and many schools use other assessment systems such as PIVATS, MAPP, Routes for Learning, B Squared, Individual Learning Plans and many more which don't fit with the Tapestry framework. We end up uploading evidence to tapestry as learning journals for parents but also filing evidence in assessment folders and highlighting PIVATS lozenges to link to pupil outcomes as well as annotating ILPs. It is very time consuming. Evidence for learning can be designed for each pupil's personal targets and even further than this can include steps of progress towards a target for example the 4 learning areas of MAPP; fluency, prompting, maintenance and generalisation. Other benefits are that it can be used offline, it can be shared with parents who can comment and upload their own evidence, it can produce printable learning journeys and assessment document evidence. Evidence for Learning could be used to record ALL progress in ALL areas such as ILP targets and progress towards EHCP targets, PIVATS or other assessment framework targets, physio or MOVE targets, pretty much anything and any other wow moments you want to record. 

This is in no way endorsed and we do not currently use this product, however on returning to school we passed it on to our leadership as we felt that as teachers, this was a tool which could be an effective way of capturing evidence as well as being practical. Swiss Cottage School also use Evidence for Learning and are big advocates for it. You can give it a go with a 14 day free trial. Contact them for more details. 

If you are back at school tomorrow we hope you have a great start back. 
Here is a link to Flo's forum in November where Hannah and I will be attending. It's an opportunity not to miss if you can convince your school to let you go!