EYE Sponsored content: Creating a sensory-rich environment to support SEND children

Nicole Weinstein
Wednesday, October 25, 2023

With understanding of different SENDs increasing, Nicole Weinstein looks at resources and activities to help children self-regulate.

All young children need support to regulate their senses and emotions at times. But children with sensory processing difficulties or those who have been diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) may need more help to self-regulate. Early years settings should offer a wide range of sensory regulation activities and resources to help children feel calm when they are overstimulated, or more alert when their energy levels are low.

Playing with bubbles is a great example of a sensory play activity that practitioners can use to decrease a child’s level of alertness, or mental arousal levels. Watching the bubbles floating in the air has a calming effect on the body and mind.
Messy play experiences, on the other hand, can increase levels of alertness in the body. As a child scoops their hands into tub of jelly to fish out small world characters, the nerve endings in their fingers are stimulated, which arouses the brain and helps with concentration.


When planning an enabling environment, early years educators should consider children with sensory processing needs. Are there plenty of fabrics of different textures in the role play area for sensory stimulation? Are there quiet, calm spaces containing different resources and activities that children can use regulate their bodies and stabilise themselves? A sensory den with lights and torches provides the perfect visual stimulation for some babies and toddlers who are upset and in need of calm. But for others, it can be too over-stimulating.

Here are some examples of resources and activities that can be enjoyed by all children, but are particularly useful for helping children with sensory processing difficulties or ASD, to self-regulate:



Calm sensory spaces
Some children enjoy being in enclosed spaces where they feel safe, secure and away from the hustle and bustle of the busy early years environment. A selection of large cardboard boxes is ideal for those who need to feel emotionally 'contained'. For children who have difficulties with auditory processing, the carboard also acts as a barrier to the noise.
Cosy nooks with blankets, cushions, fleeces and faux fur throws are great places to relax and read a story with an early years educator when a child becomes overstimulated. Drape fabric over a sectioned-off area and string fairy lights around for a cosy, magical den. Outdoors, provide tents and pop-up dens or use throws and tarpaulins to hang between trees.

Visual stimulation
Play tents where children can explore light and dark are a cost-effective option to a dedicated sensory room. Think about what children might be interested in – if it is light, provide different filters and coloured lights. Torches with different types of fabric – shiny or net – to shine the light through, are a good alternative. Ensure that children can control the light and explore what the light does.
Bubble tubes, glitter balls and lava lamps provide great visual simulation, while rain makers and balls with bells inside or musical instruments are great for auditory
stimulation. Both activities can help calm overstimulated children.
Textures are also important – carpets with knobbly bits, squidgy balls. Pieces of textured materials, large enough for the child to wrap themselves in, will provide proprioceptive - body awareness - experiences, which will help some children relax and regulate.

Resources for the sensory room or dark den
Put coloured, translucent plastics on a light box and overlap them to experiment with colour mixing. Try TickiT’s Rectangular Light Panels, from £79.00; its Colour Changing Light Panels, from £270.00 or its Sensory Mood Table, £240.00. Add its Translucent Colour Paddles, £6.00; Wooden Treasures Touch & Match Set, £15.00 or Rainbow Numbers, £11.00.


Include enriching materials such as baskets and bowls containing natural, shiny, flashing objects, spinners and reflective materials that light up and provoke different visual stimulation. Try TickiT’s Sensory Reflective Mystery Balls, £60.00; its Sensory Rainbow Glitter Balls, £25.00; its Small Irregular Sensory Flashing Ball Set, £19.00 or its Perception Cubes, £45.00.

Encourage tactile exploration with balls of different sizes, colours and textures. Try TickiT’s Discovery Ball Activity Set £48.00; its Perception Semispheres, £45.00 or its Sensory Meteor Ball, £12.00. Create soft mood lighting with TickiT’s Sensory Mood Pebble, £80.00; its Sensory Mood Cube, £108.00 or its Sensory Mood Ball, £85.00.

Include captivating and mesmerising resources that help children find their calm. Try TickiT’s Sensory Glitter Storm Set, £26.00; its Sensory Jumbo Ooze Tube, £19.00. Or add water, jelly or foam to TickiT’s Sensory Mood Water Table, £300.00, for the ultimate messy play experience.

For more TickiT resources for sensory exploration, visit Sensory Exploration – TickiT

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