A sensory room is essentially a space where a young child with or without learning disabilities can go to experience calming sensations. They can be customized for any need, budget, and available space. Although most closely associated as a tool for children on the autism spectrum, sensory rooms, which first gained national attention in the 1970s, can benefit everyone in your family.
Here, we will take a look at how to create a sensory room for a toddler that is safe, calming, and engaging.
Before you can make any decisions on what will go into your sensory room, you’ll need to ensure that you have an appropriate space for it. Ideally, you’ll have a room in a quiet location in your home that you can dedicate to your little one’s development. If you do not have an extra bedroom or office space, even a large walk-in closet will work.
When you do not have a completely quiet space, you can reduce unwanted distractions by using sound insulation in the sensory room. This could be something as simple as covering the walls with thick blankets, or adding sound-absorbing panels or soundproof wallpaper.
Color and lighting
Color and lighting each play a significant role in the overall feel of a sensory room. It’s best to avoid overwhelming colors, such as red, orange, or neon shades. Many mental health experts assert that cool colors, or those on the blue and green spectrum, help create a calming atmosphere. Pale blue, for example, is a great choice when trying to create a relaxing and soothing environment. Light gray and eggshell are also viable options for a sensory experience, particularly when you plan to include a projector and other light-based features.
When choosing lighting for your room, avoid fluorescent bulbs, as this type of light is not only harsh and distracting, but the fixtures also emit an audible buzzing noise, which can be very distracting for young children. Instead, look for fiber optic lights, LED light strips, or glow panels. Each of these may be set to fade in and out of different colors or remain steadily set to a single color temperature.
All sensory rooms should include assorted tactile features. Our tactile senses are essentially how we experience the world through touching and feeling. Toddlers often enjoy tactile centers that allow them to touch and manipulate things like sand, beans, or plastic beads. Something as simple and inexpensive as a bin of each can give your child an opportunity to receive sensory input through an open-play situation. When dealing with a very young child, make sure that there is plenty of room for you to sit nearby to ensure they do not inadvertently put small items in their mouth.
While your sensory space is an area where your child can go to decompress, it should also offer opportunities for safe physical activity. Toddlers especially are tiny bundles of energy that like to run, jump, and crash into everything in sight. They do this in part to develop their tactile senses. However, having an opportunity to do this without being told to calm down is an important part of their physical development.
For your sensory room, consider making or purchasing a crash pad, which is simply a large pillow that your youngster is free to use how they see fit. You can build your own crash pad out of a duvet cover and bed pillows. You can also use a large beanbag chair or buy a pre-made crash pad, which you can usually find through companies that specialize in making products for children with sensory processing disorders. Free movement will help your child develop their gross motor skills and also enhance vestibular system development.
While not an absolute requirement, adding a motion swing that hangs from the doorway or ceiling to your child’s sensory room does have value, because the sensation of a back-and-forth motion can help soothe the nervous system. Pay careful attention to invest in a product that is appropriate in size for your child.
Because scent is a powerful thing, you can incorporate aromatherapy into your child’s sensory room to further indulge their sense of calmness. Lavender is an excellent scent to help reduce anxiety, but you might need to try several different fragrances before you find one that works best for your little one. Remember, though, that toddlers are quick and curious. If you turn your back for just a moment, they may be tempted to ingest the source of the appealing odor, and even a small amount of essential oils may be toxic. Consult with their pediatrician first, and look for ways to reduce their direct exposure to any type of chemical, natural or not.
The benefits of the sensory room for children cannot be underscored enough. These are safe spaces where typical children and those with special needs can go to relax, decompress, and regain their focus. Toddlers can benefit in an array of ways, including controlled stimulation, having a chance to develop and improve their motor skills, and boosting their cognitive development. Further, sending your child to their sensory space when they need to evaluate their behavior is a much better option than sticking them in the corner. Here, they can work through their emotions in a way that makes the most sense to their developing brain.