The Sensory Projects aim to be a part of making a future where people are understood in spite of their differences. The contribution to this future made by the Projects is the sharing of knowledge and creative ideas that enable inexpensive sensory items to become effective tools for inclusion. In other words, to find sensory things that connect people and help them to understand one another and the world they inhabit.
As I work on the Projects, I consume research about all things sensory, often reading about fabulous (but rather expensive) multi-sensory rooms. I also read about sensory gardens - we still have a long way to go with the design and facilitation of these gardens but, as you may expect, the natural experiences they offer can be just as powerful as the fibre optics and colour changing projections of immersive multi-sensory rooms.
I regularly provide training to settings around the UK (and occasionally globally) about sensory engagement work. From time to time, inspired by smell researcher, Kate McLean, I include a ‘smell walk’ in one of these sessions. This aims to encourage participants to respond to their environment in a scent-dominated way, instead of a visually or auditorily-dominated way as we are prone to doing.
Before my participants set out on their smell walk, I tell them that if the aromas they discover become overwhelming or they feel tired, they should smell the crook of their own arm. Their natural scent will offer them a kind of sensory rest and reset and enable them to ready themselves to explore once again.
The sensory experiences offered by the natural environment do the same: the colours we see, the earth tones, the soft bright greens, the blues of the sky, the sounds we hear, the rustling of leaves, the gentle shushing of grass, the muted crunch of leaves underfoot, the odours we smell, fresh rain, warm soil - all of these things and more offer us a chance to re-balance our systems.
An engagement with sensory experiences offered by the natural world can be good for our mental wellbeing and life enhancing. Next time you are outside, do not assume your experience. Do not think that you know what something feels like so you do not need to touch it, do not think that you know what a flower smells like so you do not need to smell it. Go and do! Go sense! Take in nature and it will reward your efforts ten fold.
If you would like to hear more from Joanna and the engaging activities she undertakes as part of The Sensory Projects, do check out her website, her Twitter feed and her Facebook page, each of which she updates regularly.