Inspired by the State Library of WA’s Better Beginnings initiative, Sensorium Theatre’s sensory storytelling incursions are taking students on the ultimate sensory ride as various plots and catchy rhymes unfold.

Creative learning coordinator Holly Campbell says the special ‘readings’ are designed to be multi-sensory and play-based in the fullest sense.

“We incorporate all of the senses, there’s lots of things for children to touch and taste.

“In some of our stories, like 10 Tiny Things, we really go on a journey, and we find lots of 10 tiny things which come to life, and the children get to interact with the things that they find through the story’s journey.

“And there’s also new sorts of music as well throughout, and songs with which the children can interact,” Campbell explains.

If a story involves rain, for example, droplets will materialise and the audience might be forced to shield themselves with umbrellas.

The sessions are also multi-modal, Campbell says, so there really is an access point for everyone.

“We make sure that we incorporate some signing, and that we’re also using an AAC (communication) board, and that we’re using lots of gesture which the performers do throughout as well.”

Feedback from teachers and educational assistants (EAs) has been hugely encouraging, Campbell reports.

“Often we find that [they] are shocked by the interactions that come out of the sessions, because I guess it’s a different way of interacting with children and bringing stories to life.

“We hear about the student that they don’t think is going to engage in a session and won’t be able to sit for the 45-minute period, and they’re the student that is the most engaged and interacting with all those sensory moments throughout the story.”

A 2018 evaluation of the incursion program by Edith Cowan University found it to be “highly engaging and stimulating” for children with additional needs.

At the conclusion of a session, Campbell says it’s ‘quite amazing’ to see some children use their devices to say thank you and goodbye.

Sensorium Theatre also run professional development workshops for school staff, upskilling educators in how to inject sensory experiences into their literacy lessons.

For some the experience profoundly changes their practice, Campbell indicates.

“We’ve actually had some teachers even do a retelling of the story with their class and send the video afterwards, which has been wonderful, and they’ve created their own ending or addition to the story, too,” she adds.

Sensory storytime sessions can be held as a once-off, or split over five weeks to allow children to work through different themes within the text.

A 2018 evaluation of the program by Edith Cowan University found it to be “highly engaging and stimulating” for children with additional needs.

“The elaborate settings, the music, and the performing artists’ skills and sensitive approach, facilitated engagement in, and enjoyment of story and brought about a range of positive child and family outcomes,” researchers concluded.