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Photo of one of the play orange and pink patchwork playmats Ella created on a bed of flowers

Textiles student creates playful installation for children with multi-sensory impairments as part of her final-year project

A final-year Textiles student has created an interactive play experience for children with special educational needs.

Photo of student Ella Forrest standing in front of her work at the University's Creative Arts degree show

Ella Forrest

Ella Forrest has spent the last months of her degree designing Play! Touch! Learn! (P.T.L), a multi-sensory experience with a range of sound, touch and visual stimuli intended for young children with multi-sensory impairments.

It is aimed at benefitting pre-school and reception children in particular, but Ella was also keen to make sure it was interesting for all children regardless of whether or not they have a disability.

She used a variety of materials for the installation to create objects such as wooden hanging mobiles, leather and soft material patchwork playmats, sensory wall pieces, and digital prints on velvet and jersey. The collection includes different colour palettes too; a warm one with bright colours of pink and orange to inspire energy and creativity, and a cooler tone of green and blue to offer a sense of calm and wellbeing.

Ella was inspired to create the collection after working with children with disabilities for most of her life. Her mum has worked at White Ash Special School for over 20 years – starting as a Teaching Assistant and now working as an Assistant Head and Head of the Early Years Department – and during days off school, Ella would regularly join her mum and play with the children. As she grew older she continued to undertake work experience there, joining different classes and attending school trips.

“I found the whole experience of working with these children rewarding and so much fun. I found it easy to connect with them, and I think because I worked with these children from a young age I understand them more - school for them is just trying to enjoy themselves and learn what they can. With sounds, objects, fabrics and other sensory objects, this can be achieved."

Photo of the various pieces created by Ella being exhibited in a space at the Creative Arts Degree Show

I‌mage: Photos of Ella's designs displayed at the University's Creative Arts Degree Show

When asked why she chose to make P.T.L, Ella commented: “It’s a complete joy to watch children with multi-sensory impairments touch a piece of fabric or texture for the first time or hear a sound and see their face light up. It’s amazing how a layered pattern, fabric or crinkly material can stimulate their minds.

“Another reason I decided to make P.T.L is because I feel there’s a lack of modern play areas suitable for children with disabilities – especially those with multi-sensory impairments. I feel like they can be misunderstood, they are so intelligent and clever and all they need is a different way to express their feelings and actions. I wanted to create something that was safe and enjoyable for them to use, without being judged.”

All of Ella’s final project will be donated to White Ash Special School for the children to use, with two of her pieces already being enjoyed by the pupils. Her mum has also played a significant part in the process.

“My mum has always had a big role in my life and education, she gets so excited when I start a new collection or project, she cannot help but want to be involved. However, this one was particularly special for her. Throughout my time working on this piece, she has advised me on what children would enjoy and what to avoid and what could overstimulate them. She has been my biggest inspiration for this collection, and it was really nice to use her years of experience and expertise.”

Illustrated concept of the pieces Ella created as an installation

Image: An illustrated concept of how a room might look with Ella's designs

Michelle Forrest, Ella’s mum, commented: “All children learn through the experiences of touch, especially children with sensory impairments. In our school we use a multi-sensory approach to all learning, using a wide range of tactile materials, sounds, visual cues and even bring in different tastes and smells where we can. Our curriculum is adapted to meet the needs of all our children, and we often make our own resources for individuals.

“I must admit it was a very proud ‘mum moment’ when I saw Ella’s work at the Degree show last Friday. The quality, colours and materials she used were excellent. The different pieces incorporated all the senses and she had displayed them really well.

“The final pieces will be used in our Early Years and Sensory class in September. They will be used to support children in school by encouraging them to feel, listen and explore new materials and textures.”

Play! Touch! Learn! was recently exhibited at Loughborough University’s Creative Arts Degree Show, which ran from 18-27 June. The Degree Shows featured work by more than 600 students from a range of programmes within Creative Arts and Design. Furthermore, a dedicated digital showcase website is available to view, where you can also see the work of students studying Architecture and Art and Design Foundation Studies.

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 21/116

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