Sourcing Story Props
When selecting story props, consider the listener’s needs and abilities and how they interact with objects. This will give you an indication of the texture, weight and shape of a prop to use.
Be imaginative when choosing your prop. If you are representing an animal, pick its main feature e.g. lion’s mane, tiger’s stripes or a shark’s teeth rather than using a plastic or stuffed toy. You can also use a sound effect.
Choose props that cover the five main senses, sight, touch, taste, hearing and smell.
Most of the props used in the sensory stories are low budget items that can be found around the home, garden, nursery, classroom or residential home.
Raid the recycling and upcycle! Re-use parcel packaging: bubble wrap, corrugated card, foam wrap, polystyrene packing 'peanuts', air pillows, foam, shredded paper, Kraft roll and tissue paper.
Gift bags and pretty boxes are excellent for placing props in to create an air of mystery and for 'What's in the Bag/Box?' activities.
Plastic containers can be recycled for use as plant pots, paint/glue pots, measuring scoops, sand and water play toys (punch holes through the bottom for an instant waterfall effect) They are versatile for use in craft activities such as junk modelling and making bird feeders. Fill with glitter, confetti, and food dye, (don't forget to seal!), to make sensory bottles.
Cardboard boxes become castle, dens, houses, shops, trains, cars, buses, boats, airplanes, rockets, a dolls house, post box, theatre, ice cream van, or a guitar. The imagination is the limit!
By being creative, you can build up a bank of resources on a very tight budget. Charity shops, thrift stores, jumble sales, garage sales, car boots sales and £1 shops a are all good sources of story props.
Take advantage of the sales e.g. buy Christmas props in the January sales.
Herbs & Spices
Build up a store of herbs and spices. They are available dried or fresh, are cheap, and a little goes a long way!
Herbs are fun and easy to grow from seed in containers on a sunny windowsill or if you prefer, potted herbs can be bought from supermarkets. Dedicating a small area of your patio, yard or garden to herbs will reap rewards and provide you with a year round supply.
See if your town has a community herb garden or take cuttings or swap herb plants with friends and neighbours.
Here are a selection of fast and easy to grow herbs.
Mint is the fastest growing herb. It can grow up to 3 feet in height and spreads in abundance. There are many varieties to explore such as spearmint, lemon mint, apple mint, peppermint and even chocolate mint!
Fennel is hardy and easy to grow, it has bright green, feathery, fern-like leaves and aromatic large yellow flowers. This plant will grow three to four feet tall. The foliage and seeds are both edible and have an anise-like flavour.
Rosemary is an edible evergreen bush so you will be able to use it all year round. Its stems are woody and its brilliant blue flowers produce a piney fragrance. (Excellent used as a prop when learning about the Romans, Greeks or Egyptians or to represent a forest or woods in a story.)
Lemon balm is a citrus-scented, aromatic herb with tiny white flowers. Its leaves look similar to mint. It is native to the Mediterranean and was used by the Ancient Greeks as it attracted bees.
Lavender is a wonderfully fragrant plant from the mint family, with delicate grey-green foliage and beautiful, edible, flowers that keep their fragrance when dried. The herb originated from the Mediterranean, Middle East and India so is great for using in stories based around those regions.
Thyme is a strong smelling and tasting herb native to Europe, North Africa and Asia. Most species are evergreen, so you will be able to use this herb year round. Their stems are narrow and their tiny leaves fragrant. Thyme has edible, white, pink or purple flowers. It thrives in a hot, sunny location with good draining soil. The Ancient Egyptians, Ancient Greeks and the Romans all used thyme so this herb is great for linking into historical sensory stories.
Chives are native to Britain and grow rapidly in clumps that can be divided to make new plants. Belonging to the onion family, they have tall, hollow leaves and when they bloom in the summer they have wonderful, deep purple or pink pom-pom like edible flowers!
I love using edible flowers in my sensory stories! They are pretty, delicate, colourful, tactile and versatile providing a perfect sensory experience.
Here are a selection of my favourites!
Lavender leaves and flowers are beautifully scented. Place dried leaves and flowers into small cotton bags to make your own lavender bags or add to your recipes when baking.
Nasturtiums The round, edible broad leaves of the nasturtium have a wonderful peppery tang and are high in vitamin C. They are excellent used as a story prop for a lily-pad when teaching about frogs or fairytales! Used to garnish salad, their exotic edible flowers are coloured bright orange, red and yellows. Nasturtiums are cheap, easy to grow and will spread, climbing up walls and fences and provide ground cover. Their seeds can be harvested for planting the following year or you can make picked capers.
Sunflower seeds and petals are packed with nutrients. The tiny seeds are crunchy with a nutty flavour There are two types of sunflowers seeds, the seeds encased in black and white striped hulls are used for eating (discard the hull), the seeds with solid black shells are used for oil. The petals of the sunflower have an artichoke like taste. Sunflowers are exciting for children and young adults to plant. Position in a sunny spot, keep watered and watch them grow!
Roses belong to the same family as strawberries. Their delicate, silk-like, perfumed petals have a soft feel on the tongue.
Courgette flowers. These wonderful, large, bright yellow/orange flowers are very tactile and packed with nutrients. I use them when teaching about Christopher Columbus who bought the courgette over from Central and South America.
Pea shoots are the tender tips of the vines, their leaves, flower blossoms, stems and tendrils make a fresh, grass-like tasting salad greens.
Other edible flowers include fuchsias, marigolds, cornflower petals, violas, chives and pumpkin flowers.
* Engage learners by planting the seeds together and nurturing them as they grow.
* Add to homemade playdoh.
* Freeze inside ice cubes for sensory play.
* Press flowers and use them in artwork.
* Dry the flowers and make home-made pot-pourri.
* Practice flower arranging or set up a role play florist shop area.
* Weave into flower headbands or crowns.
* Make scented herb bags to be used during relaxation. Use tactile materials such as velvet or fake fur.
* Use as ingredients when making 'potions'
* Use as cake decorations and to garnish salads.
* Conduct a colour changing science experiments by placing white flowers in a clear container with food dye.
The Health & Safety bit!
Only use plants and flowers you know are safe to eat.
When picking the flowers ensure they are clean, mould, bug and disease free, have not had insecticides used on them.
Be allergy aware
Sound effects create atmosphere breathing life into a multisensory story and providing the opportunity to elicit a response from the learner/story explorer.
A quick search on the internet will provide you with access to a library of free audio clips and sound effects that can be played via your phone, iPad, Kindle or recorded on a Dictaphone.
There are also sound effect apps available.
If you have a budget then consider investing in a set of voice activated talking tiles. These are single button voice recorders that record and playback speech, music or sound effects. They have a removable clear lid that allows you to insert pictures, symbols, numbers, words or letters to match your recordings. They present the listener with great opportunities to explore cause and effect, practice listening skills, record and listen to their voice, enhance the sound effects in a story and are an excellent tool for retelling a story.
Here are a few fun suggestions for making your own sound effects using low budget items found around the home and the classroom.
Glass smashing: place small metal objects (coins, screws, bolts) into a fabric bag then gently drop the bag into your open hand.
Squelch: canned mushy peas coming out of the can. make a wonderful squelching and sucking sound that occurs when the air on the outside of the can is sucked into the can to fill the airspace.
Bats flying: open and close an umbrella rapidly.
Crunching: break dried pasta, spaghetti, celery stalks.
Footsteps: Hold two shoes and tap the heels together, then tap the toes. Try using different kinds of shoes on different surfaces. For instance, walking in cat litter sounds like walking on gravel or snow.
Bird's wings flapping: wave a pair of rubber gloves up and down rapidly.
Breaking ice: slowly twist polystyrene until it squeaks and snaps.
Developing Listening Skills
Stimulate the listener’s hearing by presenting a range of familiar and unfamiliar sounds played at varying volumes and in different locations, e.g. behind the listener’s head so they can turn their head to locate the sound.
Note the listener's preferences to calming/alerting music, grinding, hushed, monotonous, musical, intermittent, rhythmic, mellow or percussive.
Play musical instruments such as recorders and harmonicas, blow whistles and party blowers. Sing, hum, whisper and use silly voices.
Listen to bubbles pop, the sounds of nature, the leaves rustling through the trees and the birds singing.
Listening to meditation teaches calmness, and develops understanding of thoughts, feelings and emotions helping to build confidence. A quick search online will open up a host of free meditations to listen to, suiting a range of audiences. Young children can visit secret tree houses, meet sleep sloths or go on magic carpet rides. Teenagers can explore the cosmos, meet their spirit animal or enjoy a relaxing body scans.
Our senses are constantly bombarded with stimuli in our busy lives. To an individual with special educational needs and disabilities this sensory overload can sometimes cause them to 'switch off'.
Listening games provide the opportunity to concentrate on the sense of hearing alone helping the individual to make more sense of their environment.
Other benefits of listening games are teaching sound discrimination, promoting the development of language, communication and comprehension skills and increasing attention span.
A quick search on the internet will give you access to limitless sound effects from helicopters to howler monkeys!
How to Play a Listening Game
1. Play the sound effect.
2. Can the listener communicate a request to listen to the sound again?
(this could be through gaze, verbally, through sign language, Makaton, body sign)
3. Can the listener independently use a switch or a talking tile to activate the
4. Can the listener imitate the sound using their voice?
5. Can the listener correctly identify the sound? (Give plenty of clues/present
a selection of pictures for them to choose from)
You can theme the listening games e.g. 'A trip to the rainforest', 'transport',
'sounds around the home' etc.
BBC Sound Effects
16,000 BBC Sound Effects made available by the BBC in WAV format to download for use under the terms of the RemArc Licence. The Sound Effects are BBC copyright, but they may be used for personal, educational or research purposes, as detailed in the license.
Freesound is a collaborative database of Creative Commons Licensed sounds. Browse, download and share sounds.
Composing With Sounds
A wealth of information, links and free downloads
If you have any sound effect ideas you would like to share get in touch!