Sensory nature hubs

Sensory Nature Hubs are kits that can be installed in any space to support the learning and development of young people with learning disabilities by engaging with nature and the outdoors. The Hubs provide ‘pop-up’ learning hubs for classrooms of special schools for children and young adults with learning disabilities.

This project addresses the issue that we are constantly coming across with special schools - they are aware of the value of outdoor experiences in terms of learning and development, they want to get out more but lack the financial and logistical means to do so. In the current economic climate school trips are often restricted to one per term so now more than ever there is a real need to connect with nature and the outdoors in a simple, easy, meaningful and timely manner.

About the project - Phase 1 2014

Prior to launching the project we ran a consultation day with Doubletrees Special School to find out how the pupils and teachers would like to see their outdoor spaces used. We obtained feedback from over 60 pupils and 10 teachers and the overwhelming response was that they would like to spend more time outside as part of their lessons. The pupils identified many sensory stimulating objects and games that they would like to see in their outdoor spaces and the teachers reflected on the pressures to introduce more outdoor learning but the lack of tools and guidance to take this on.

Armed with this information we created the Sensory Nature Hubs project. The project aims were;

  • To provide safe access to outdoor spaces for children and young people with learning disabilities in special schools
  • To enhance the educational experience of children and young people with learning disabilities through access to outdoor learning.
  • To provide guidance and support for special needs schools to meet National Curriculum targets through integrating outdoor learning into lesson plans.

Group of young people engaged in sensory activitiesSensory nature kit with collage activitiesGirl holding up the colour palettes she's made

Phase 1 results

  • We worked with children in special needs schools in Devon and Cornwall to develop a range of activities and games which complement nature based learning
  • We produced 20 nature hubs and distributed these to special needs schools and a hospice throughout Devon and Cornwall.

About the project - Phase 2 2016

Phase 2 of the project involves testing and streamlining the most popular resources from Phase 1 and making them available to a much wider audience. We will;

  • Run 12 sessions with classes of children in special schools in Cornwall to prototype, test and develop some of the resources.
  • Gain feedback from teachers and teaching staff on how the resources could be improved.
  • Narrow the resources down to 6 different ones to manufacture and make 30 of these available to order for free from our website for special needs schools and units.

We aim to have our free resources available to order from our sales website from January 2017 onwards.

Group of young people engaged in sensory activitiesSensory nature kit with collage activitiesGirl holding up the colour palettes she's made

We developed the supporting materials for Sensory Nature Hubs using Widgit symbols as they are widely used throughout special schools in the UK. We are very grateful to Widgit for their assistance in helping us develop the supporting materials. If you would like to find out more about using Widgit symbols or discover more symbol based resources please visit Widgit's website.

Watch some of the activities in action on the Sensory Trust's Youtube channel:

Sensory nature kit in a box

Downloadable resources

These downloads include supporting materials for a range of sensory nature activities.

Sensory nature activities - a guide to a range of nature-based activities (PDF 2.2MB)

Hoop and loop

Bug hotel

Smash and smell

Links

How-to videos on Sensory Trust's Youtube channel - find a collection of activities

Creative Carers Network blog - news, ideas and activities

Nature-based activities - more ideas for sensory activities

Sensory engagement - projects, ideas and examples of how to connect with nature through the senses

Dementia-friendly activities - to help you plan dementia-friendly spaces and activities

Feedback from schools

“The activities provided a much better purpose and focus for being outside. It made the grounds more accessible”

“Everything worked as planned. We looked at all the activities and got familiar with them and then asked the class, what would you like to do? It was good to have some structure to going outdoors.”