How Important is touch in early child development?

Did you know that our sense of touch is controlled by a huge network of nerve endings and touch receptors in the skin known as the somatosensory system?

This system is responsible for all the sensations that we feel.
It is made up of a complex system of sensory neurons and pathways that send messages to the brain, in response to changes taking place on our bodies surface.

The brain does not respond to all of the somatosensory system in the same way. It is highly sensitive to touch sensations in the face (lips and tongue), hands and feet as they contain far more fine touch receptors than other areas of the body.

David Linden, a Neurobiologist at John Hopkins University, highlights the importance of touch for a baby’s development in his book Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart, and Mind.

“The best examples of this come from Romanian orphanages after Ceaușescu’s fall, when there just weren’t enough people around to take care of babies. They were barely touched during the day,” Linden says.
“These kids didn’t just have a host of emotional problems — though they were depressed and had high instances of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other issues — but they also had a whole raft of physical ailments. They had weakened immune systems, and skin ailments.”

“Other research has confirmed this phenomenon. We’re not entirely sure why it happens, but it seems that early touch experience is extraordinarily important for development of both cognitive function and a healthy body.”

“This is why, nowadays, when premature infants are born and put in isolators, they’re taken out for a few hours a day, and pressed against a parent’s skin.”

A study carried out by University College London in 2013, also found that touch increases the brain’s ability to construct a sense of body ownership and plays a big part in creating and sustaining a healthy sense of self.

Magic Carpet ImageTactile elements are sometimes missing from Sensory Room designs. Vast, multi-wall projections and sound systems can be fantastic for visual and auditory stimulation, but they do nothing for our touch receptors.

Sensory Guru work to ensure that all of the senses are stimulated through our Sensory Room designs, whether it be through the inclusion of a vibrating bean bag that vibrates in response to stimulating visual displays, or through the inclusion of a tactile panel.

Contact us for more information.

How can visual and auditory stimulation help to activate the mind and harness positive emotions?

We Are Our Brains BookWe store different parts of a memory, such as sounds, music, objects, or people’s faces in different parts of our brain.

This means that when we try to recall something that has happened, we have to piece the various elements of the memory back together, by recalling information that is stored in the different locations.

Due to this, if certain sections of our brain become damaged, it can impact on our ability to recall all the aspects that make up a memory.

For example, people who suffer damage to their temporal sulcus (the part of the brain that remembers faces) sometimes lose the ability to recognise people, despite their being nothing wrong with their eyesight!

This may mean that they can’t recognise the face of the person that they are married to, but they can identify an object that belongs to them, such as their car.

Language and music are stored in the rear section of our brain, which is the last part of the brain to be affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

This means that Alzheimer’s sufferers retain their ability to speak and their musical aptitude, for much longer than other capabilities.

In We are our brains, from the womb to Alzheimer’s, Neuroscientist Dick Swaab recalls a professional pianist that started to experience memory problems at 58.

By 63, the dementia was so advanced that she could no longer retain information that was said or written, but she could still hear a piece of music for the first time and play it back from memory.

Over the next year her cognitive skills declined sharply, but she could still play the melodies she knew, an activity that gave her a great deal of pleasure.

According to Swaab, visual artists who have Alzheimer’s also often keep their artistic skills intact for much longer than other abilities. This is because artistic skills are stored in the rear section of the brain, which is least affected by the progression of the disease.

We at Sensory Guru, take this research into consideration when designing sensory environments for adults with Alzheimer’s disease.

Incorporating visual and auditory elements into the room can help to stimulate these sections of the brain which can help to activate memories that drive positive emotions.

We also create safe, relaxing spaces where levels of stimuli can be stripped back and controlled so that participants do not become disorientated and overwhelmed by the level of stimuli that surrounds them.

The incorporation of LED lighting also helps to create an atmosphere of calm within the room, while devices such as the Magic Carpet can help to keep the brain active, encourage communication and movement due to the number of applications that are installed on the Magic Carpet.

Magic Carpet also enables facilitators to make their own apps, which means that content can be personalised with, for example, a family picture or a participant’s favourite song, which can help to evoke key memories.

How can colour be used to create ambiance and enhance the learning environment?

Colours have a range of emotional and subconscious effects that can help to reinforce different moods and even trigger biochemical responses.

It is for this reason that Sensory Rooms and Learning Environments designed by Sensory Guru, incorporate LED colour-wash lighting to create ambiance by bathing rooms in colour.

The colour blue, for example, symbolises and creates feelings of calmness. Studies have also shown that blue light can help to adjust a person’s circadian rhythm (a person’s internal body clock which tells them when they are asleep or awake), which can help to increase levels of energy and vigour.

This is because skin and photoreceptors in the eye are sensitive to the colour blue, which results in an increase of blood flow around the body. As a result of this, the colour blue is also believed to help relieve feelings of pain.

reen classroom environment

Similarly, the colour green is often used in classrooms to enhance learning and concentration; while warm tones of yellow and orange can help to create a cosy, friendly and nurturing atmosphere by evoking feels of happiness and enthusiasm.

Research has shown that orange and yellow can also increase levels of creativity and muscle energy because they lead to an increase in oxygen flow to the brain, which triggers increased mental activity.

Yellow lighting Sensory Room

Sensory Guru’s brand colour pink, on the other hand, is bright, playful ­and representative of an individual’s inner child. The colour inspires feelings of comfort, compassion and is often associated with giving and receiving care.

Magic Carpet in St Joseph’s Specialist School and College


St Joseph's Nurture Room
St Joseph’s Nurture Room

  Read the case study

Staff at St Joseph’s Specialist School and College decided to purchase a Magic Carpet in October 2014, with the aim of enhancing the sensory experience for learners that use the school’s Nurture Room.

Since purchasing the device, staff have lived up to the school’s strapline of “no limits, just possibilities” and have proceeded to:

Take the lead in creating their own personalised apps for the Magic Carpet

 Carry out research on the effectiveness of the Magic Carpet

 Use the Magic Carpet in a number of interesting and innovative ways for relaxation, stimulation, occupational therapy, speech and language development

Karen Bratchell, Nurture Room Leader at St Joseph’s School, said: “While we originally purchased the Magic Carpet for sensory and relaxation purposes, the scope of the Magic Carpet extends far beyond this.”

“We can’t express enough to other people that, if they wanted to purchase an interactive projection system, they should get Sensory Guru’s Magic Carpet.”

Read the case study in full to learn about the exciting work being carried out at St Joseph’s Specialist School and College.

 Read the case study

Want to find out the benefits Magic Carpet could provide for you?  Contact us!

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Designing a sensory room with Hazel Court Community Specialist School

Hazel Court Community Specialist School

 Read the full case study here.

Sensory Guru has worked alongside staff at Hazel Court Community Specialist School to design their new Sensory Room, which has been named by learners as The Discovery Room, due to its ability to create an immersive environment where students can discover the wonders of the world around them.

Sensory Guru caught up with Katherine Lewis, a Specialist Communication Teaching Assistant from the school to find out how the process has been for staff and to learn about the impact the Discovery Room is having for learners.

The case study contains some wonderful examples that highlight how technology can be used to create an immersive environment to benefit students with complex needs.

It also contains lots of tips and advice for other teachers that may be looking to design a Sensory Room, as well as containing information on how to gain access to funding and teaching ideas.

  Read the full case study here.

Want a case study written about the great work taking place at your school?

Looking for a free design consultation? Contact us!

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