Kat Cauchi reviews this book and finds out just how important the senses are in storytelling.

‘Sensory Stories’ by Joanna Grace is the ultimate how-to guide for sharing sensory stories – in other words, it does exactly ‘what it says on the tin!’ However, there’s much more to it than that…

What really struck me when reading this book, is just how important sensory stimulation is and how it’s so easy to take those experiences for granted. Being so used to this kind of stimulation being around me, in the ways I expect it to be and with easy access, I hadn’t grasped how essential it is to actually have sensory stimuli. In part one of the book, there are key instances that illustrate this, for example, the story of a young man who had, “no reason or cause to use his senses or abilities so he gradually withdrew into an inward world.”

Once Grace has illuminated the signifcance of sensory stimuli, she then clarifes what would be strong sensory stimuli to ensure you are providing the best sensory experiences when sharing sensory stories. It is useful to have this outline for quality practice before delving into the narrative aspects.

A sense of belonging

Next, Grace explores the signifcance of narrative. She talks about how stories are shared experiences of our life, culture, and the world around us, as well as how they bond us together. She also outlines how not being able to be a part of stories – to be uninvolved – can be truly isolating.

This focus on inclusion resonates with one of the key purposes of sensory stories: to enable everyone to be able to access stories in a rich and meaningful way.

The author states throughout the text how sensory stories should be short, with all the example narratives in the book being only ten phrases or less. This may surprise you like it surprised me. I wondered how you could create meaningful stories in varying genres with only a few phrases, until Grace shared how she had worked with a physicist to create a story about the birth of stars in stellar nurseries. A story including all the essential facts and information in an engaging way, this showed me that my perception was wrong. That these stories didn’t need the same quantity of text as a text with limited sensory stimuli, i.e., your typical chapter book.

She also states many times that the story must not be changed, and to avoid the temptation of additional verbal prompts. Sure, you may introduce more sensory items slowly (particularly for those with sensitivities) but the story is unchanged. This made me refect on how I may have overcomplicated storytelling in the past by changing things or adding in too many prompts etc. that could have been difficult for some children to process.

Wider thinking

Speaking of processing, the ‘Sensory Processing Differences’ chapter is very useful in helping practitioners understand how these can present in different ways and the approaches needed to provide tailored support.

Additionally, Grace shares how sensory stories can be used to support an individual with eating diffculties. This was a use I didn’t think of but now makes sense when you consider all the sensory stimulation within eating: tastes, textures, scents, sounds like chewing, the sensation of swallowing, etc. I liked how she explains that using sensory stories with an individual with eating diffculties can give more opportunities to celebrate success, for example, rather than just ‘they didn’t eat x today’ you could say ‘they didn’t eat x today, but they smelt and touched x so they’re making good progress.’

It was also useful to have an assessment tool provided to use with sensory stories to help track smaller steps of progress. This can help you celebrate small wins, as well as supporting individuals with the next steps on their journey.

Bringing stories to life

Inside the book were several sensory stories. I loved how each one had the text, information about it, how to resource it, how to facilitate stimuli and associated activities for support and challenge. It would be easy to re-create these stories, thanks to the meticulous guidance. It also struck me how Grace had considered resources that would often already be available in schools/nurseries or could be purchased quite cheaply (especially if sourcing secondhand).

Overall, this book really opened my mind to the power of sensory stimuli and left me with so much new learning and inspiration. An absolute must-read!

Author

  • Katherine Cauchi

    Kat Cauchi is a WeAreTechWomen #TechWomen100 2023 award winner and a 2022 Nexus Education 'Classroom and Curriculum' improvement award winner. She is the community engagement manager at NetSupport, editor of R.I.S.E. Magazine, and the host of two podcasts. Kat is a member of the Global Equality Collective, a Global EdTech author, InnovateHer ambassador and Technocamps Girls in Stem role model.
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