Sensory stories for children of all abilites | Mary Atkinson

Story Massage

We all love stories. And when combined with the therapeutic benefits of simple massage strokes, stories can present wonderful opportunities for creativity and nurturing for children of all ages and abilities. We have developed an innovate project that includes a Story Massage book, DVD, resources and accredited training for professionals and parents.

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What is Story Massage?

Story Massage can be imaginative, educational, bonding, calming – and great fun for children and adults alike! Sandra Hooper and I have worked together for nearly 10 years now and continue to be amazed by the power of touch and storytelling in so many different situations from a primary school in Kenya to elderly people – and even a school outing!

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Story Massage involves the use of ten simple movements (given through clothes), associated with words that help to build up an engaging and interactive story. Tracing a large circle on a child’s back, for example, can depict the image of the world. Similarly, a gentle squeezing action on the shoulders can represent kneading the dough for a pizza. The ten basic Story Massage strokes are given a name, such The Wave or The Drum, and accompanied by a distinctive symbol for ease of reference.

We have devised these ten Story Massage strokes to offer a structure within which a child and parent can enjoy their own creativity. There is also plenty of scope to adapt favourite stories or have fun with your own stories to reflect particular interests, activities or events. The strokes can be applied to a child’s back, arms, head, hands, feet, legs – wherever is most suitable for the individual. Depending on the situation, Story Massage can be shared as a child to child or as an adult to child positive touch activity wherever and whenever you choose!

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Benefits of Story Massage

We now run regular Story Massage training sessions for professionals and parents. It is so versatile with such wide ranging benefits that it is being developed worldwide in settings including the family home, school, after-school clubs, family centres, hospitals, hospices and special schools. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive with benefits ranging from preparing an autistic child for a new school, calming a distressed child at bedtime, raising self-esteem and confidence, and encouraging young people at a special school to engage actively in sensory stories. Indeed, it has been of particular benefit for professionals and children in Special Needs Education.

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There is also an educational element suitable for children of all ages and abilities, making it very inclusive. It is ideal for learning numbers and letters, and aspects of history, geography and science. For many children, learning through doing, known as the kinaesthetic approach, means they ‘feel’ what they are learning and this engages them in a different way. Story Massage may also help complement other ‘tools’ in helping parents and children develop resilience and coping strategies. And training in Story Massage is great fun too!

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Feedback from a mother with a child with ADHD

We have recently heard from mother of four daughters, one of whom has ADHD. She trained in Story Massage and now runs groups to share the benefits with others.  This simple positive touch activity  has made such a difference to her family that she wrote to tell us the top five benefits:

  • Story Massage is a simple and quick way of giving individual attention to a child. It makes them feel special.
  • Story Massage is a wonderful reward for completing chores or counting the days to an exciting event. Now that we have integrated Story Massage into our routine the reward can be either a massage just for them or to be able to make up their own story and share it with the others.
  • Story Massage offers my children a channel for making sense of the world and expressing their difficult emotions. We have been very moved by some of the stories our daughters have written.
  • Story Massage can help calm down potentially explosive arguments before they start: this is one of my most difficult times. And this is where Story Massage has become a huge help. It is a great way to diffuse the situation calmly and peacefully.
  • Story Massage can be very calming. If any of the girls are feeling tense, upset or tired then Story Massage can be really helpful. My daughter with ADHD is usually very fidgety but during a Story Massage she becomes quite still and I can see her whole body relax. The wonderful thing is that she asks for it now because she knows it makes her feel good.

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Review for Story Massage Book

Once upon a touch … walks you through the concept of story massage – applying a series of simple touches to a child during the telling of a story. You learn how to ensure your touch is respectful and that the individual needs of the chid are taken into account before learning a series of different touches which are then used to share the different stories in the book. These include perennial favourites such as Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood as well as a range of stories designed to promote trust, relaxation or imagination. The book provides the information you need to approach story massage confidently and sensitively and with a real sense of enjoyment. There are many benefits to story massage both for the child and the adult. Amongst other things it promotes calmness, relaxation, wellbeing and bonding.

I found the book easy to use and the stories highly enjoyable. I tested some of the stories out on my five-year-old daughters and found it to be the perfect way to relax before bedtime. My girls have also enjoyed learning to use the different strokes on each other, and this provides a chance for fun and bonding between them. I can imagine that these stories could work well in a wide range of circumstances, particularly where a child is in need of calming or emotional support or where focused work is needed on attachment building. I can imagine that these stories may work especially well with children with special needs or children in foster care or adoptive families. Dr Pooky Knightsmith, Leading Expert in Child Mental Health.

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