Nature sensory bags are a motivating and calming way to engage the senses.
What you need
- A bag
- Nature items e.g.
- Bark – Add a thin coat of clear varnish onto your piece of bark. (Avoid yew trees)
- Dandelions & dandelion clocks – Dandelion flowers, leaves and Dandelion seed heads (clocks) are safe to touch and eat. Do not eat the stems.
- Edible flowers – such as chive heads, cornflower, courgette flowers, hibiscus, lavender, marigolds, nasturtium, pansy, pea shoots (flowers and tendrils), pumpkin flowers, rose petals, scented geraniums and sunflowers. When picking edible flowers ensure they are clean, mould, bug and disease free and have not had insecticides used on them.
- Feathers – clean them by gently washing with a mild soap or detergent then air dry flat or with a hairdryer.
- Fruits – such as apples, blackberries, bilberries, blueberries, cherries, wild raspberries, also wild garlic. Only eat fruits that have been cleaned thoroughly and you recognise and know are safe to eat.
- Grass – generally safe to touch and eat if clean but eating in large quantities is not advisable.
- Herbs – generally safe to touch and eat if clean. Avoid it if you are unsure of its safety or what it is.
- Leaves – Common leaves that are safe to eat include horseradish, nasturtium, chickweed, purslane, lambs’ quarters, sheep sorrel. If unsure the leaves of vegetables, broccoli, carrots, cucumber, leeks, pepper, radish, sweet potato, squash and tomato. Avoid it you are unsure of its safety or what it is.
- Pebbles – clean with hot soapy water or through a dishwasher. Be safety aware if the person might throw them.
- Pinecones – generally safe to touch and eat if clean. Be nut allergy aware as they may contain pine nuts.
- Sticks, twigs – only use from trees you know are non-toxic. Wash in hot soapy water and leave to dry. To avoid splinters smooth with sandpaper or coat with a layer of clear varnish.
Never touch or eat anything unless you are 100% sure it is safe to do so.
The Royal Horticultural Society have a comprehensive list of toxic/non-toxic trees and plants on their website
If a person has dysphagia (swallowing difficulties), ensure they do not put any items in their mouth.
If you are concerned or have doubts regarding any activity or item used, then seek advice before starting.
Guidance and Instructions
- Choose a non-see-through bag that the person will enjoy the tactile and visual nature of. You might like to choose natural rather than man-made fibres e.g coir, cotton, flax, hemp, jute, silk, sisal, straw, wool.
- Selection nature items to put inside the bag. (This can be one item at a time or several items together). If the person is likely to explore items with their mouth, choose items that are safe to do so).
- Give the bag a gentle shake, if this is helpful to gain the person’s interest and attention.
- Offer the person to place their hand in the bag and select an item.
- Allow plenty of time to investigate the item using their senses and to process the information. Depending on the preferences of the person you may wish to engage in this activity language-free and you may wish to play nature sounds or relaxing music in the background. If you do use language, then keep it simple.
- Tune-in to observe the person’s responses to what they are exploring and be responsive to this. Does the item give them pleasure or do they dislike it? Does it fascinate them or do they not show any interest. Use your reactions (facial expressions, tone of voice, simple phrases to reflect how you think the person is experiencing the item).
- Enable the person to reject any items that they do not like or want.
- Never force stimuli and stop the activity if the story explorer shows signs that they are not enjoying the activity.
- When the person is ready to move on, shake the bag again and offer another item to explore.
- Repeat until either the person indicates that they have had enough or it is time for the activity to end. Be sure to cue the person when it is time to finish and support their transition to the next part of their day.
Enhance the sensory experience
- Whilst allowing the person to lead the experience as much as possible, offer assistance as and if required and welcomed; using hand under hand run their fingers over the indents, lines and grooves of the craggy bark, rub the lavender flowerhead to release its perfumed scent, draw attention to delicate petals and the slight bend in a stem.
- Scatter leaves from a height to recreate the sound and sensation of them falling from the trees. Does the person enjoy tracking the leaves as they fall?
- Explore cause and effect. Blow the leaves across the table or the person’s lap tray to create a windfall. Use a battery operated, paper or hand pressure fan and support the person to operate the fan as much as they can and want to.
- Encourage scientific exploration; present a selection of twigs for comparison, straight vs forked, rigid vs bendy, smooth vs rough.
- Incorporate audio clips of nature sounds to match the sensory items e.g. gently mist a water sprayer when playing an audio clip of rain or present feathers for tactile exploration when playing the audio clip of birdsong.
What to observe, assess and record
- Watch for how the person reacts and share in their experience.
- Observe whether the person shows any pleasure or displeasure, or any other reaction to particular items. Be mindful of how your own reactions may influence their experience e.g. by showing your own preferences, interests, dislikes or disgust to any items.
- What responses do you observe in the person during and after their exploration?
- Do you notice any impact on the person’s wellbeing?
Take note of any sensory preferences as these can be used to enhance the daily lives of the individual by offering them the items again or using them in different parts of their lives such as within their diet or personal care. For example, the person may show a preference for lavender and therefore enjoy a bath with lavender scented products or find touching feathers calming in times of stress or anxiety.
Preferences can also be used to inform choices of objects of reference and smell cues.
© 2021 Victoria Navin, Rhyming Multisensory Stories
Connecting Individuals with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities to Literature, Culture and Topic in a way that is Meaningful to their lives.
Created May 2021