We have had sensory areas throughout our home for many years but longed for a “real” sensory room. The cost of setting up my dream room from Snoezelen was many thousands of dollars and would clearly never happen. I spent hours pouring through websites, catalogs and Pinterest for ideas and eventually came up with a list of our “must haves”. Next I determined what I could make myself, how to replicate some sensory items with items that were similar in effect (but with a much smaller price tag), and what I would need to purchase. I researched products and prices all over the globe! Nearly every product was much more expensive through special needs catalogs/suppliers than it was anywhere else (toy stores, teacher supply stores, Amazon, pet stores, etc.).
Another consideration was that our room still had to serve as a physical therapy room, play room and homeschool room so the sensory items had to fit into the space without taking over.
This is our reading nook. The white board is made from a piece of shower board, the fabric organizer holds the markers. I made a blanket and furry pillow to provide different textures.
The lights are outdoor Christmas globes that we have had for several years but never used. I tied leftover white tulle together and wrapped it around the globes to soften the light.
The chandelier adds some sparkle, especially when other lights are on in the room. I used fishing line to attach beads to a metal base (which held lotion received as a Christmas gift last year).
We have swing hooks attached to the ceiling beams at each end of the room so at least two people can swing at the same time. This is a Currambera Hammock Swing Lounger. It’s very soft and supportive with a weight limit of 300 pounds so it can hold two people (the colors are really fun too!).
Just to the right of the reading nook I added an LED color changing bulb. There is a remote control making it very interactive. You can choose one specific color, fading colors of different speeds or even flashing and strobe light effects. I hung a paper lantern from the dollar store over the bulb to soften and diffuse the light.
I hung a white sheet over a large bookcase, to reduce visual clutter and serve as a screen for lighting effects. I installed blacklights ($12 each from Menards) to both sides
as well as the ceiling in front of the bookcase. This provides plenty of light for our sensory table.
I found a bag of random wooden items (beads, blocks, craft sticks, etc.) for $2 and painted everything in a variety of florescent paint colors. I also added inexpensive items as I found them such as random fluorescent KNEX parts ($.50), jelly bracelets ($1), pony beads ($3), pipe cleaners ($2), and a number of Glo Fish aquarium accessories from the local pet store.
I made a large Lite Brite with a scrap of peg board, duct tape and pool noodles. The “pegs” are simply fluorescent pipe cleaners cut into thirds.
Of course the sensory table is fun with the lights on, too.
Most sensory rooms feature lighting effects. There are projectors, rotators and wheels required putting the cost well over $1,500! This is way out of our price range, plus I wanted something portable so it could be used in the bathroom (J will not take a bath, but she will go in a sensory tub – I’ll post on that another time) and bedrooms as well. Our solution is the Aurora. There are no wheels to change and it was a grand total of $15.55 including the adapter! The colors can be changed, steady, fading slowly or changing quickly. The lights have a very soothing wave like movement. It can powered with an adapter or with batteries. The Aurora works in a small room or large room, covering the walls and ceiling. The photos above show some of the different settings on our white screen (sheet).
Our top priority for our sensory room was a bubble tube column. The cost for a bubble column corner (mirrors, column and platform) was a minimum of $3,800 – again, that was out of the question!
I figured out how to make a bubble tube, mostly using aquariumaquariumaquariumaquarium supplies. However, the cost of the acrylic cylinder alone was cost prohibitive. I did find some portable bubble columns that were more affordable but they were also pretty small. Finally, I discovered Sensamart when I ordered some of their chewies through a different catalog. I checked out their website and found this amazing bubble column for only $119. At over 4 feet tall and 4″ in diameter it’s the perfect size for our space. The colors fade gently and the bubble speed is adjustable.
Acrylic mirrors were much more expensive than I imagined they would be. I purchased one large mirror and attached it to the wall, it was very thin and at $50, still more than I wanted to spend. So, for the other side of the corner, I attached mirror trays with Command Velcro strips. The trays were only $22 for a set of six and are very sturdy. We can also remove them to use with the light table and other projects.
I built the padded bubble column platform myself for just under $13. See the tutorial here. It’s very comfortable, padded and the perfect size for our space while still roomy enough for two.
Next to the bubble tube is our crash pit. I was super excited to discover A K Athletics. They offer affordable crash pits, gym mats and other foam products in custom colors. We chose a purple crash pit, 60″ x 60″. The pit has a full floor mat which makes it very sturdy, more shock absorbent and allows the pit to be moved easily. Every once in a while I slide it out into the middle of the room and let the children crash into it from the trapeze bar or buoy swing.
Cloud Nine is L’s favorite activity at occupational therapy. Again, it was not in the budget. Also, it wasn’t the right size and I really didn’t like the grey colored cover. So I waited until just before Halloween when this ultra soft teal velour was on sale at Hancock Fabrics for only $2.30 a yard. I purchased nine yards and made a cover to fit the crash pit, then stuffed it with chunks of high density foam. The bottom has a velcro opening so the foam can be refilled or removed for washing.
More Command Velcro strips on the walls allow for hanging panels (like the latches board). I can easily change the panels without damaging the wall.
I also added glow in the dark stars from the dollar store and self-adhesive mirror circles around the room to reflect the lights.
Above the crash pit is my favorite light feature. I found LED rope lights on clearance at Walmart for $6. I bought two sets and attached them to the ceiling beams with the included clips. I found 20 yards of blue shimmer fabric at the thrift store for $4! I folded it in half and hung it over the rope lights. I made the light blocking curtain from leftover fabric from another project.
The crash pit in action!
We saw a linelite shower here. However, at $225 it was another out of budget item. I made my own budget friendly version for $25 using a thick piece of rigid foam cut into a circle and then attaching fluorescent parachute cord.
The little glowing eggs in the photos are Oggz. They slowly change colors and can be moved and carried around the house. It comes with a charging base so there are no batteries to replace.
The glowing round balls are swimming pool toys purchased at Walmart for $2.50 each. The colors slowly change or can be set to a steady glow of one color. They float in water which makes a nice addition to water play in the sensory table.
There is still plenty of space in the middle of the room for physical therapy, obstacle courses, playing in the Sensory Hot Dog (above)…
and playing with the Lego and Activity table (tutorial here).