iOi at Queensmill School
iOi facilitator Helena Rice reflects on the iOi’s residency and training at Queensmill School for autistic children
In June, we embarked on a new and exciting project with Queensmill School for autistic children. The iOi team was commissioned to deliver a bespoke programme of training and workshops based on needs identified by staff at the school.
These needs included developing the relationship between the school and parents, offering parents further support for the home and discovering more creative ways to use the school’s sensory rooms. We worked with artist Ellie Griffiths to give exploratory training sessions to teachers and parents and to deliver three Imagination Pods; Looking and Exploring, Sound Muddle and Making Spaces, to the school’s four sensory classes, which include children with the highest level needs.
A training session was held with the parents of the children who would experience the Imagination Pods across the two-week residency. This training explored ways to create ‘sacred spaces’ in the home, where the parent and child could spend creative time together in play. Ritual and repetition was used to focus on simple, sensory experiences with the child. We provided iOi family boxes, a resource that includes hanging net structures, a sound track, sensory items and craft materials in a particular colour scheme. In small groups the parents used the materials to brainstorm creative experiences they could share with their child. The invitation was to focus on one activity for a sustained period (as opposed to offering too much stimulation), to do something with the child rather than to them and to be present with them without the pressure and distraction of trying to get them to complete a task. At the end of the session each parent was given an iOi family box and asked to use them with their children at home.
Two weeks later we met with parents for a feedback session. The parents valued the opportunity to share experiences with others and to offer and receive support and advice. They expressed interest in more sustained training, and said it should be something available to all parents at the school. Importantly, the training and resources had given them new ideas for the home.
“Sensory is new. The family box gave me permission to include the sensory elements. I didn’t know Daniel liked smells so much. Now I will use them much more.” Gladys, Mother
“It invited my imagination to grow.” Tariq, Father
With a group of 12 members of staff, we examined ways to approach the school’s extensive resources more creatively. The focus was on the water room, which is popular with a lot of the children, but has only been used in quite limited ways.
At the start of the session, the teachers were invited on a journey into the water room, as if they were the children. We used simple items and methods such as music, puppetry, dye and bubbles to alter the space. This effect offered new opportunities for exploring water: the sound of it, the play of light on it, the feel of it at different temperatures and speeds.
During this session the group discussed the distance of the teacher during sessions. Teachers mentioned that often in the water room sessions, in an attempt to remain dry, the teacher keeps a strong physical distance from the child. It was agreed that the involvement of the adult, and the liberty to get wet, was key to the child’s experience. However, the new stimuli demonstrated could encourage the children away from the usual routine of using the shower head. The teachers were excited by new ways to create areas for discovery and focus by building anticipation.
In small groups the teachers structured a plan for a 30minute session in the water room, in light of what we had explored. What emerged were much finer details of the session with time to focus on subtle sensory experiences with the water and to engage in the experience with the child.
In feedback sessions two weeks later, teachers said that the training had changed their approach to using the room and that they had integrated the resources and ideas into their practice.
“I’ve never had anything like it. It was excellent. I really enjoyed it.” Olivia, Teacher
“The next time I used the room, we entered with the music on. It immediately gave a calming effect…It was different to usual and it highlighted to me the children’s listening and attention skills ” Lucy, Teacher
Imagination Pods residency
Alongside the parent and teacher training, the Imagination Pods occupied the school for two weeks.
Teachers were surprised at how long children engaged with the Pods and said that it was unusual for them to stay in a room together for that length of time.
In terms of outcomes, teachers felt that the Pods had influenced staff to work differently. They saw an increase in confidence and improved choice making in the children’s interactions with the equipment. The Pods also motivated some children to relate more to the adults.
“My team learnt to give children time to interact and build up the confidence to use the equipment. First you engage and model, but then the team were able to give the children room to be creative. It helped them stand back and give time.” Jaga, Teacher
“Sometimes staff have an idea about what a child will or won’t like or respond to. The experience with the pods could encourage more openness.” Lucy, Teacher