Play sessions open up the world for children with complex disabilities

Laura is a play leader at TouchBase Pears, Sense’s centre in Birmingham. She runs play sessions for under-eights there and in the community. Here, she explains what she does day-to-day, and why it’s so important to the children we support. 

Five children and three support workers play with twirling ribbons in the TouchBase Pears family room.

As a play leader at Sense, my job is all about fun. 

Specifically, it’s all about supporting children with complex disabilities and their families to have as much fun as they can at TouchBase Pears, Sense’s centre in Birmingham.

I plan and deliver a range of play sessions based around the children’s interests. Why is this important? Because play isn’t just play – it helps children build on their communication and interaction skills, preparing them for life at school and beyond. 

A day in the life of a play leader

A typical day in my role can vary – no two days are ever the same. That’s all part of the adventure!

I run sessions from TouchBase in our fantastic family room. I also go out into the local community and deliver sessions in local schools and nurseries.

Depending on the session I’m running, I start my day by setting up the space. If we’re running a music session, for example, I’ll get out our musical instruments. Once we’re all set up, it’s time for the fun to begin!

One of our most popular sessions is messy play. This is where we let children get stuck into slime, foam, glitter and other exciting textures.

“It’s been amazing to watch children grow in confidence, achieve new things and explore the world around them. We let them feel free to explore their environment in their own way.”

Children also love sensory stories. This is where we tell the children’s favourite stories using different elements they can see, hear and feel. For example, in our story about going on a bear hunt, we might give the children some pretend “mud” to play with, or splash in some water. 

This helps the setting of the woods come to life. The children can feel like they’re really in the story, feeling the same things the characters do. 

Our “movers and shakers” session is really popular too. It’s a dancing session, allowing children to explore their senses through movement! We also have yoga and music sessions. 

Forest school is my personal favourite. That’s where we get to put our shoes on and head out to explore nature and the outside world. I love seeing the children become immersed in the world around them. 

Children standing on colourful circles that give sensory feedback in the TouchBase Pears family room.

Why play is seriously important

The children and families we support are simply incredible. They never fail to put a smile on my face. The children we support are under eight years old, and they have complex disabilities

This looks different for every child. For example, we run play sessions for lots of children who are autistic, who have ADHD, cerebral palsy or global developmental delay. Generally, every child’s communication needs are different. 

Our play sessions help to prepare these little ones for what nursery or school might be like in the future. I feel that for many of the families we work with, Sense has become a safe space. 

It’s been amazing to watch children grow in confidence, achieve new things and explore the world around them. We let them feel free to explore their environment in their own way.

It’s also great to see families building relationships and support networks with each other.

Our family room at TouchBase Pears

Most of our play sessions in Birmingham take place in our brand new family room. It’s such a welcoming, fun space – we are so lucky to have been given funding from Severn Trent to make it happen. 

The space has specialist sensory lights and bubble tubes that are just magical for children with visual impairments. It also has plenty of sensory toys, like a Chimeabout – a spinning toy with bells and mirrors that fascinates children with its combination of twinkling sounds and lights. 

An adult and child exploring a wooden house used for toy storage and play in the TouchBase Pears family room.

We also have touch and tilt screens, which bring our play activities to life with bright colours and sound. If we’re telling a sensory story that involves the beach, for example, we might show the ocean on the screens, so the children can see and hear the waves crashing. 

All of the furniture in the room was also specially designed for kids with complex disabilities. It’s made especially so the children can feel it, and even climb inside it!

The space has given the children the freedom to explore in their own way, at their own pace. Seeing their faces light up when they come in never gets old. 

Thanks to this space, we’re able to create so many opportunities for families to learn and enjoy their time together. The fun never stops!

To learn more about inclusive play, read our guide to playing with children with complex disabilities.