Remembering Carol and Michelle from L’Arche London

I have always known the my experiences in L’Arche London (formally known as L’Arche Lambeth) were special times. Explaining the experience of living with and supporting adults with learning disabilities is something that you can’t explain in a way to give justice to it. It transformed my very being and allowed me to experience some of the very hardest and some of the very best moments of my life. I don’t want that previous sentence to sound too cliche – but its true.

Before joining L’Arche fresh from University I naturally had a limited experience of life – mostly myself and my family. I had no idea what I was letting myself in for as such. I was going to a community that was very much rooted in beliefs of a traditional faith nature and I was/am of a spiritual nature but not of a religious background. I was also informed unofficially that I would be fine there in any home as long as I wasn’t going to be in a certain home that had been experiencing some stressful months. Yes of course I then found out that that was the home where I was going to be! I had had no previous experience of working with adults with learning disabilities and when I first arrived I was met with a busy corridor – full of adults with and without learning disabilities. I can honestly say that my first feelings were those of anxiety. How on earth was I, literally just out of University going to be able to support adults with learning disabilities?!

However, it was in these early days that Carol was really the first person with a learning disability that I got to know. I can’t say that I remember too much in terms of details from the early days or any of the days in a way that would be nicer to remember – as my memory is pretty awful sometimes. I was desperately looking for photos on my external drive, but sadly believe most of these early day memories are real photos in an album (which is also quite good) in another country from the one where I am now. I’ll hopefully find them in due time. I do of course remember a sense of the time I spent in L’Arche.

What I do remember is Carol’s welcome of everyone who arrived in the house – short or long term visitor – friend or acquaintance. I remember her interest in and knowledge of everything that was going on in the house. I remember her sense of humour and the persona she played when having fun. Although she naturally took a while to allow me to support her fully – something I respected – as why should she straight away with someone she doesn’t know – and someone who is younger and has less experiences in life than her and who is also anxious about dong something wrong when first getting to know people. This is what I first respected about Carol, and the same with Michelle. They both knew who they were in terms of what was their personal space and what and who they did and didn’t like. They also knew and expressed who their long term friends were and I knew that if I did anything Carol didn’t like that she would let me know that she wanted to tell one of her friends in particular about it! However, over time we developed a trust between us and I can hear the way she called and said my name as I write now. I can also remember her taking my arm when walking somewhere. What I remember most fondly was her concern for others – she knew if you were not 100%. She would ask if you were ok. I remember her smile and her willingness to have a go at new things – such as when a colleague and I started doing some sensory storytelling in L’Arche a few years back. Carol is also one person who I can clearly see how she maintained her personality but also seemed to be able to find more peace and relaxation as life went on. I can’t believe that I knew her over the span of 20 years  – is quite something for any of my friends.

As when remembering Carol I remember the house where I was first living in L’Arche – when I remember Michelle, I remember the stone workshop – which was the first craft workshop in L’Arche that I worked at. I was quite nervous around Michelle at the beginning and I guess she probably was of me as a new person too. However, through the great idea of my then boss and continued good friend, we started doing the health and safety checks together. We got an A4 ring binder folder and I printed off some accessible symbols and photos for the weekly checklist. Michelle could lead on the job, by carrying the folder and ticking off the checklist. She was so thrilled at the thought that she was ‘learning’ and had responsibility. From that moment on we could be friends. I can’t remember when she first went to college but this was in 1998 (same year I came to L’Arche) but I will never forget her thrill at saying that she was learning and the pride she took in that role. She taught us that you really need to give opportunities, responsibility and let people with learning disabilities take the lead.

Both Carol and Michelle had a great love of music and for me I remember the 50s/60s audio cassette we had in the stone workshop. Wish I knew what the playlist was – but do remember the song ‘I remember You’ – that Carol sung along to often – with a beautiful, passionate voice. She also liked the song about ‘No Milk Today’… Michelle – I mostly remember her love of ‘Michelle My Belle’ and Abba tunes! Michelle was also a keen joiner in of the first music and storytelling sessions that I started doing with some colleagues as a freelancer out of L’Arche- and for that I am also grateful to her for her continued friendship.

Greetings from Vienna, Montessori and Peace Education


I have never been the best at keeping up to speed with writing regular blog posts. Strange seeing as I am certainly a talker when I get going. However, I suppose that given the fact that my topics of conversation often revolve around repetitions such as health and money matters and similar everyday stuff – it is probably just as well that I don’t write a blog post every day!

I would though like to write with warm greetings from Vienna. I have been here since the beginning of March and I am here until the end of July – possibly longer. I lived in Vienna previously – for five and a bit years. I first came over with the European Voluntary Service to work in a Caritas refugee home. That was back in 2003 so before the current refugee crisis. I then got a job working in an International Montessori Kindergarten near the United Nations in Vienna. I was invited to start work and to train to be a Montessori teacher at the same time. It was my first time working with children in an official capacity (I had done baby-sitting, GCSE Child Development and had worked with children in the refugee home). However, my employer said that the Montessori philosophy seemed to be quite similar in ways to the philosophy that I had worked with previously in L’Arche.

I say it to almost everyone that I meet – that Montessori philosophy has really influenced all of the work that I have done subsequently. I used it when working with adults with learning disabilities, when woking as an learning support assistant in a primary school, when doing private tutoring, when working at the Natural History Museum and in the other heritage work that I do. Following that first time in Vienna, I spent ten years in London and have now just returned! With it becoming increasingly more difficult to make my CV fit into any decent size, it’s a relief that at least now returning to my previous employer, I just need to do some alterations with the dates and do not add a completely new workplace!

Something that I really wanted to share in my blog is how inspirational I found the Austrian Montessori Symposium that just took place not too far from Vienna. I hadn’t known what to expect from the symposium but was very pleasantly surprised. Something that has been on my mind for a little while and in particular when retuning to the Montessori Kindergarten was the topic of peace education and basically the cliched quest of how to make this world a better place. I was so thrilled to be able to listen to speakers and take part in seminars that enabled me to contemplate and learn a bit more about Montessori peace education. Peace education underlies all of the Montessori education from birth – but it really gets to greater depths when working with children from school age onwards.

Montessori philosophy as I have understood it from the Kindergarten age, is that peace education begins with enabling the child to understand their place in the world. This is developed through offering the child ways of interacting with the world around them, which includes learning about the world through the different senses and through specially devised materials and activities. An activity that has always felt special to me is the land, water, air activity that we did/do in the Kindergarten. Through collecting these elements one by one and through talking about them – beginning with our observations – we realise how lucky we are on this planet – to have all these things that we need and it encourages us to look after this planet.

The first lecture of the Symposium was by Judith Cunningham and she talked about peace education in Montessori. She talked about how this is achieved through Montessori’s cosmic education. Some of the other key words I jotted down during the talk are: the great lessons (and great questions), grace and courtesy, the interdependency chart, the fundamental needs of people chart, one nation, my part in the world, the great river chart – need collaboration – as a metaphor for human collaboration.

I was blown away by the project that she set up which is the Montessori Model United Nations. Young people aged 9-15 get to be United Nations ambassadors and take place in a construction of the United Nations processes. It sounds absolutely amazing and works by giving the children the chance to meet children from around the world and to discuss the real issues of this age. The young people must represent a country other than their own and so they get to feel what it is like in another countries shoes as such. It makes the most of the knowledge that Montessori had that young adolescents are agents for change – that they have a huge sense of justice, human rights and civic responsibility. The aim is that young people feel empowered as opposed to the hopeless feeling that is so common in this day and age. The young people work in the way the UN do to come to a consensus on the issues they discuss and create resolutions and vote on them! Anyway watch the video – it says so much more than I can here. I also apologise if I have misquoted anything. They have also set up the Youth Impact Forum as a way of sustaining the goals the set out at the MMUN events.  Anyway I could say more about the conference (there was lots more) and I could probably say more better. However, I guess I now want to be responsible for working out what I can do to contribute more to a peaceful world. I am enjoying working with children again and using the Montessori Method and I also want to find out more about Montessori Peace Education.


Further Crystal Palace Park Sessions for the London Wildlife Trust

Me (Sarah)








Hello! Bit belated, however I would like to share a few words about the six sessions that Coralie Oddy (who also runs Remini-sense) and I delivered in Crystal Palace Park as part of the London Wildlife Trust’s continued Heritage Lottery Funded: Great North Wood Project. Coralie and I led six music, sensory and storytelling sessions over three days for between 6-8 adults with learning disabilities. We delivered the sessions in September 2017, a little over a year following the delivery of our initial Crystal Palace Park sessions for the London Wildlife Trust with Emmie Ward. Emmie was part of the development of these sessions.

It’s hard to express how delighted I am with the fact that about five years after first starting out on Crystal Palace Park heritage projects I have been able to develop my skills in terms of completing my Masters in Museums and Galleries in Education, learn about Joanna Grace’s Sensory Storytelling, tour guiding and oral history techniques from the Inspired by the Subway project – and most of all meeting like minded creative people to work with. Nothing beats the feeling of sharing a passion, brainstorming, developing and delivering a project with others. So thank you Coralie and Emmie! Thank you also to Penny who works in the Crystal Palace Park Information Centre building for welcoming us and the Friends of Crystal Palace Park for having us.

Coralie and I loved leading the sessions and meeting people from different homes and organisations. We varied the sessions slightly depending on the needs of the group. We had a great mix of participants and a couple of the groups had members who were predominantly sensory beings. Sensory beings is a term used by Joanna Grace to describe how this group of people largely experience the world:

Sensory Beings  people whose primary experience of the world, and meaning within it, is sensory. Joanna Grace  The Sensory-being project

We focussed on sensory activities for these groups, however sensory experiences was a primary way of communicating our theme with all groups. I (and I am aware many others) have often argued – If you make heritage activities accessible to people with as many different needs as you can –  such as in sensory ways – then the visiting experience will often be more pleasurable for all  anyway. I also believe in exploring themes that anyone would want to explore in a heritage venue. It is not purely about simplifying things it about how you develop your programme of activities: I believe one should always get to know the subject as well as you can. Even when working with nursery aged children I am not satisfied with just knowing the basics. It means I probably take longer than anyone else to prepare anything, however, it is just the way I work. I need to understand the topic as fully as I can to work out the essence of what I want to get across. Spending a lot of time in preparation means that you are able to really develop activities that: actually make sense; are meaningful to the heritage location; and link to anything/connections you know between the participants and the theme. Most of all spend time with people and have a passion for the people you are working with. This will ensure experiences are truly accessible and mean that nothing is part of the session just ‘for the sake of it’ or an on the surface accessibility.

I think the photos of the session materials are more useful than any explanations I will give here. These photos follow below. Our main theme was the park and it’s different uses. One theme was focussed on the history of the area before the park – when the area was covered with the Great North Wood. We explored the plants, animals and people who lived there. Check out my song about Margaret Finch – famous for being called the Queen of the Gipsies and telling the fortunes of young reveller visitors to the area. For the second theme we concentrated on  The Crystal Palace and included meeting Queen Victoria at the opening ceremony of The Crystal Palace (with added harp music accompaniment that I recorded as part of my community audio trail) and an exploration of the aquarium (of which there are still some remnant walls in the park if you know where to look!) and some of the inventions on display such as Maxim’s Flying Machine!

Centrepiece – including flower garlands to wear and ribbon hoop for The Crystal Palace opening ceremony
Leaf sensory box
Dragonfly kite – to guide us from the Aquarium to the outdoors! New addition to join our Sparrow-hawk kite 🙂
Jelly Fish!
Jellyfish 2
Jellyfish 1
Hand-held sensory aquarium
Crystal Palace Fountain
Crystal Palace Fountain in action!



























Here is some of the feedback we got:

Botany on Your Plate

I recently developed and led three afternoon workshops for adults with learning disabilities at the South London Botanical Institute as part of their current Botany on Your Plate series of workshops and events. As far as I am aware, the workshops are the first to be developed there specifically for people with learning disabilities. However, there is already a rich educational programme in place for children and adults.

Founded in 1910, by Allan Octavian Hume, The South London Botanical Institute (SLBI) in Tulse Hill is situated in a Victorian house and garden and though smaller than the likes of the Natural History Museum, is a fascinating centre for heritage and botany alike. It holds a herbarium, library, education spaces and a botanical garden. I really wanted to develop these sessions in order to help make it more accessible for local people with learning disabilities.

I developed the workshops to cater for a variety of skills and interests. The first session was art based, the second cooking based and the final session used music and storytelling to explore the theme of botany on your plate.

The group that came are based just up the road in West Norwood and are members of the L’Arche London community. L’Arche is a local Charity with its roots in France where it was started by the philosopher, theologian and humanitarian Jean Vanier. L’Arche is very present in the local community and is about to celebrate 40 years of being in West Norwood.

I began planning these sessions with thoughts on what it would be about the theme Botany on Your Plate that could resonate with people. The obvious thing is that of food and my experience of most people’s enjoyment of shared meal times together in the homes – where good food and conversation is often present! L’Arche has its own garden project and so the link between growing and eating food is a a connection that people will already make. However, I was keen to develop this further and help people get to know the layout of the house and garden.

In the first session I developed an activity where people could eat specific fruit and then find the corresponding plants in the SLBI garden. These plants were not necessarily bearing fruit, so I put photos of the fruit near to the plants and made the activity into a treasure hunt. We then searched for vegetables in the house to then use for printing to create our own plate designs. The second session saw us exploring herbs using out senses and working out what they were. This was good because we could use some herbs from the L’Arche garden as well as some from the SLBI garden and some extras from elsewhere! We made herbal teas from different recipes that I got from Rachel De Thample. The final session used a sensory story from Coralie Oddy (Remini-Sense) about gardening. This in concentrate on the seasons and the growing cycle and we also sung songs on this topic to complement it. We also had a search in the garden and brought things in to tell and/or show the rest of the group what we found on our search.

It will be interesting to learn what people took away from the session and what they remember of it. I hope that it is the beginning of a connection between the SLBI and L’Arche and will also pave the way for other local connections.

Sarah Glover is a freelance education practitioner who particularly works in the area of heritage, music, storytelling and accessibility.

May Day! On land – though could be near the sea if you are Padstow way!

Hello! So having had a break from blogging and sharing of ideas, I decided that it is time to share again! My current sessions are based on the theme of May Day and I and sharing them with groups of adults with learning disabilities.

I have devised three session plans but each with the possibility of being repeated and extended upon. Thanks goes out as always to the people who probably have as much to do with these ideas and plans as I! So firstly to my colleague Emmie Ward – together we led joint sessions with a May Day theme around this time last year. Since then I have had ‘Unite and unite, let us all unite!’ on my mind! Emmie needs to get her own blog up and going 🙂
Also credit to the English Folk Dance and Song Society – who have a fantastic online resource bank. (I really must add some more links to this website).  For now just type in EFDSS Resource Bank and you’ll find a plethora of resources including info on May Day. I used that as my main source of research in terms of the the things that take place on May day.

I found some rhymes in a lovely and very small old book that I have from my family and I have made up simple tunes to them. The Padstow May Song and Hal An Tow (A Helston song!) are both great and very catchy and with interactive possibilities. I couldn’t really find a version to listen to of the Mayers Song, (despite googling to the best of my not always the best googler ability.) However, I like it as a rhyme too – as I first found it.

Looking at my plan below I can already see the elements that I have not actually carried out yet. Either because I decided to simply and repeat or to adapt to the different people in the group. I hope it is of some interest/help to you. I am still finding my way in the sessions I lead, especially when newer groups, however, this theme does make me happy 🙂

Plan and ideas below:


May Day

Week 1

The night before at home prep/cosy

Week 2

May Morning dew/celestial

Week 3

May Day Parade, Jovial/humour

Hello Song Good Morning, Missus and Master (smell garland) Good Morning, Missus and Master

(smell garland)

Good Morning, Missus and Master

(smell garland)

Poem/Rhyme The Mayer’s Song The Cuckoo May Gosling Fool
Soundscape Evening sounds (Fire crackling, owl hoot, Bonfire Candle to smell) Morning Sounds (chimes and morning dew to feel) Celebrations Sounds/ (Bells, clapping sticks/Money to hold)
Story Element 1


Gathering foliage & our fav things (like Milk Maids) to decorate houses/hoop/horse (Horse sounds/ snapping jaw) Crowning of the May Queen and King (crown, flower head dress) decorate with ribbons Waking up Jack O Green (green covered ball?)and joking (laughing ball/sound effects/kazoo)
Story Element 2 (Dance/tunes) play tunes on whistle and from itunes Horse dance


(Winster Gallop/Bear Dance/Three Around/Derby Kelly)

Maypole dance


(The Keel Row/ Planxty Irwin/ Seven Stars/ Si Bheag Si Mhor

Morris Dance


(Banbury Bill/Country Gardens/Brighton Camp)

Story Element 3

(May Game)

Horse Race

(Counting/Giddy Up)


(circle shape)

Cheese rolling (smelly camembert box)
Songs 1 (Main /recurring) Padstow May Song

Hal an Tow

Padstow May

Hal an Tow

Padstow May Song

Hal an Tow

Songs 2 (nursery rhyme) Horsey Horsey

Lavenders Blue

Dusty Bluebells

Sing a rainbow

This Old Man

Down By the Bay

Songs 3 (contemporary/


Here Comes the Sun/Keep on Running I’m A Believer/I saw her standing there/Doo wah diddy Old Joe Clark?
Close The Mayer’s Song – Final Verse The Mayer’s Song – Final Verse The Mayer’s Song – Final Verse


Extra songs/activities:

The Trees Grew All Around/We are Beating the Bounds

I can see clearly

Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World

Singing in the Rain/Raindrops keep falling on my head


Story/script ideas


Use a tone chime or similar – this time I used a triangle to set the tone/scene

Explain that the next few sessions are going to be on the theme of May Day and the May Day celebrations that have taken place since a long time ago!


Session 1


-Sing the hello song – allowing people to smell the scent of real blossom/flowers

-Say that it is the evening/morning and House name is getting ready for May Day.

-Say the individual names of people there who are getting ready.

-Introduce the soundscape and any related items.

-Then for session 1 for example, say persons name is collecting flowers/leaves for the May garland. Then go through everyone individually with different items to addand build hoop with them. Say that house name is trying to make the best garland in the whole of town name. (In an excited way!)

-Also prepare the horse with e.g. wooden clapping mouth and decorate with bells


Rhymes and Songs


A May Day Rhyme

{C} Good morning, Missus and Master,

I wish (up) you a happy {G} day;

{C} Please to smell my garland,

Be {G} cause it’s the {F} first of {C} May.


The Mayer’s Song

We’ve been a rambling all this night,

And sometime of this day;

And now returning back again,

We bring a branch of May.


The Mayer’s Song (Final Verse)

The moon shines bright, the stars give a light

A little before it is day,

So God bless you all, both great and small,

And send you a joyful May


The Cuckoo

The cuckoo’s a bonny bird, he whistles as he flies

He brings us good tidings, he tells us no lies;

He drinks the cold water to make his voice clear,

And when he sings cuckoo the summer is near;

Sings cuckoo in April, cuckoo in May;

Cuckoo in June, and then flies away.


May Gosling and ‘May Goslings past and gone. You’re the fool for making me one’!


It’s been a while!

I can’t believe that is has been so long since I last updated this blog. I am still very much working in this field as a freelancer. It sometimes happens that energies need to be transferred away from things like blog writing. In my case it has been the fact that I have been taking on new work and therefore as well as this new work involving new planning and making and practising – it has also been a time of processing and reassessing what I do.

I have been feeling pretty ok about the work I have been doing in this area up until now. However, having taken on several pieces of new work at once I suddenly realised that I felt a bit of anxiety and I felt a bit like I needed to go back to basics.  I guess no-one really likes feeling stress, however, I see this time of reassessment as a positive thing in the long run. It is important to discover what essence new work will take on for example in terms of needing to work out a new sense of flow for sessions and also to have a feeling of humbleness in the light of meeting new people, getting to know them and what they enjoy.

So what work have I taken on? I have started to work at the National Maritime Museum (NMM) as one of the new SEND Facilitators, trailing new sessions for children who attend special schools. It is called ‘Sensory Seas’ and involves children becoming explorers at the NMM. I have also led a couple of sessions on behalf of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS). These sessions have been  short music and storytelling sessions for two groups of children at a special school. The sessions have been based on English folk songs. I have also recently started leading music sessions at two residential homes for adults with learning disabilities. This week I will be joint leading the first of three sessions leading up to a performance of the ‘Invisible Palace’ ‘Boundaries’ project in Crystal Palace Park. We will be supporting L’Arche London to take part with other local community groups. Emmie and I are focussing on stories connected to The Great North Wood and Crystal Palace Park. Last but not least – I have been developing ideas for a couple of other local heritage projects! More to follow on those…

Sound Tracks and The Great North Wood

Here is the article that we wrote for PMLD Link. It says a little more about the work I do with Emmie and Keith as Sound Tracks…. (Coralie too but she is working hard as a Speech and Language Therapist at time of writing :))


Sarah Glover, Emmie Ward, Coralie Oddy and Keith Park have formed a collective – Soundtracks – to provide multi-sensory storytelling, poetry, music, song and dance workshops for adults with severe and profound and multiple learning disabilities on the theme of The Great North Wood

Sarah writes:

The Great North Wood History

 Oh the trees grew all around, even in, your own home town…

I first found out about The Great North Wood when studying for my MA in Museums and Galleries in Education. I was researching the history of Crystal Palace Park for various projects, which included the creation of a community audio trail. During my research, park and parish boundaries were frequently mentioned and there was talk of the ‘Vicar’s Oak’ that once stood on the triangle. Looking at area map excerpts through different time periods I became intrigued by the time before the palace and park and in particular with John Roque’s 1746 map of London. I found a copy of Roque’s map in Lambeth Archives and this map clearly marks ‘The Great North Wood’ in large lettering over Norwood and Dulwich. Having lived in West Norwood off and on over the years I had had no idea of the name’s origin. If ever you get the chance to take a look at the map, you should!

I can not confess to be the most knowledgeable person on The Great North Wood. The London Wildlife Trust are a good source of information and they are currently working on a Heritage Lottery Funded project on the theme. The trust manages areas of land which include remnants of the wood that you can visit today, such as Sydenham Hill Wood. I am fascinated by the wood and the stories it holds. I am particularly interested in the mix of tangible and intangible history of the area and I am passionate about helping to make local heritage accessible to as many people as possible. Key aspects of life in The Great North Wood are used as starting points during the sessions – the nature and characters of the wood.  We have always left these aspects open for development during the sessions – and the learning has been for us as project creators as much as for the students.

We are beating, beating, beating the bounds… we are beating, the bounds…

The Great North Wood once covered most of South London and stretched from as far as Deptford to Selhurst. Many clues about the area’s history are in names – area and street names such as Vicar’s Oak Road. The wood was centrally made up of Oak trees, and boundary oaks such as the Vicar’s Oak (that no longer stands) were important landmarks. People would have visited these oaks when taking part in the annual tradition of beating the bounds. From what I have heard, this was when the parishioners walked along the lines of their parish boundaries to make sure that they asserted which land was theirs. We celebrated the beating of the bounds in our April session. This included using real sapling wands and processing around a symbolic (hand drawn) tree while singing a song we created.

Have you seen Margaret Finch? They call her the Gipsy Queen….

 Names continue to tell a story, such as Gipsy Hill, which refers to the gypsies who once held summer encampments in the area. The most famous of these gypsies was Margaret Finch who was given the name ‘Queen of the Gipsies’. Day trippers from all around visited the gypsies, apparently including Samuel Pepys’ wife, Elizabeth in 1668.* The thought of excited day trippers going to have their fortunes told and and the festival feel that must have been provided us with lots of stimuli for songs, drama and music on the theme.

Stand and deliver, your money or your life…

I am familiar with The Highwayman being taught in schools from when I working as a teaching assistant in a school.  We didn’t use the poem in this project. However, the highwaymen who would have roamed The Great North Wood were the first characters we introduced. The drama developed during the sessions. Sometimes we were all the highwaymen and sometimes one or two highwaymen and highwaywomen collected treasure from the rest of the group. This was supported by song and the words: ‘Stand and deliver!’

The plants and animals of the Great North Wood have been a theme throughout all of the sessions. Nature has been fundamental to the sensory storytelling and interactive storytelling. To date we have used more general animals and plants that could be found in woodland, but there is a huge scope for developing around nature particular to The Great North Wood.

The Great North Wood Sensory Stories

It was a long time ago…

I was first introduced to sensory stories at a day workshop with Joanna Grace at a Diversity in Heritage Group meeting. I had always been interested in how to make museums, galleries and heritage sites more accessible and had a fair amount of experience in education and disability. However, this was the first time that I learned about a clear, practical, interesting and instant way to get started. I then attended a training weekend with Joanna Grace. As well as learning more about developing and telling sensory stories, I also met Coralie Oddy. Coralie also had an interest in The Great North Wood and we resolved to write a sensory story on the theme.

It was the time of The Great North Wood and the trees grew all around….

Sensory stories are usually made up of about ten parts/sentences and throughout the story you try and cover as wide a variety of senses as possible, so that each sentence has a sensory experience connected with it. Our sensory story was the starting point for the themes we covered and continue to use during the sessions. We first thought about what we could use to represent the wood itself. We wanted to create the feeling of immersion in the wood and Coralie had the idea to use a hoop with leaves that dangle from it. We could then place the hoop over the heads of individuals so that they would truly be immersed in the leaves. The hoop proved helpful in creating a special atmosphere in the sessions. It helps us begin with a sense of calm and familiarity. This, combined with Emmie’s beautiful flute playing means that there is a mystical feeling of being transported to the wood.

The trees grew flowers which bloomed and turned into rich, juicy berries…

The theme of woodland has given us a bountiful amount of ideas. Sensory stimuli are used throughout the story and the whole session. However, in each session at some point in the story there is a prolonged period for sensory exploration. We take around a variety of stimuli to participants and while introducing people to the different items we also observe what interests and simulates enjoyment. Items are mostly inspired by the workshops with Joanna Grace and include visual stimuli such as laminated pouches filled with coloured water and small objects; as well as touch stimuli of gak and various kinds and water beads in water. We always have a couple of scents on offer.

Coralie writes:

Highwaymen hid in the woods. You could hear the sound of horses hooves and running feet….

 Gaining an understanding of what different individuals respond well to (or perhaps do not enjoy) has been really important for developing the sessions. In one group, we found that a wide circle arrangement was important to give some individuals space, whereas another group developed a real sense of intimacy by having the story circle brought tighter. Some individuals have developed their confidence in participating by being offered the chance to add extra sensory layers to what is now a familiar story (such as using clapping sticks to create a ‘tick tock’ sound during the part of the story ‘It was a long time ago…’). Others have shown subtle signs of greater engagement as the weeks have progressed. One visually impaired individual who found noisy stimuli difficult really benefitted from experiencing the story in terms of different kinds of touch on her arms and hands – light tapping fingers for rain fall, for example. It also gradually supported her to engage more fully with other sensory aspects of the story – she was happy to smell differently scented gels and hand creams when used within the context of hand massage, and matching speed and intensity of touch to music being played seemed to increase her tolerance of these sounds. Another individual who tended to wander and rummage through people’s possessions during the sessions was able to have her needs met and be included within the ‘action’ of the story by having leaves scattered in front of her, which she carefully picked up and placed in a bag for us to scatter again. Following and accepting the preferences of individuals has been helpful in supporting them to try new sensory experiences. Experimenting over time has been key!

Emmie writes:

I have recently completed my PG Cert in Sounds of Intent  (Adam Ockelford 2008) at Roehampton University. Originally designed to enable children with PMLD to access music,

Sounds of Intent ‘maps’ musical behaviour and development and divides musical expression into three distinct but interdependent areas: reactive ( listening to music), pro-active ( making music) and interactive ( making music with others). It emphasises an individual approach to musical expression in which the student is guided along at their own pace and direction.

Our aim in the sessions was to provide an array of interesting sounds for people to listen and respond to. This included the words in the stories, the rhythmic call and response of Keith’s poems and chants as well as instrumental music and songs and soundscapes to create the atmosphere of birds singing in the woods or wind blowing through leaves. When working with students with PMLD who might not be aware of sound as a separate entity its important to try out lots of different sound experiences and observe their response. One of the most important sounds for them to hear is their own vocal sounds. With this in mind some of the songs in each session are adapted or purposely created to include vocalisations, which everyone sings together. Students also consistently respond to hearing their name so we use their name not only in hello and goodbye songs but in songs that relate to parts of the story as well.

Its really important to make sure that sound is as different as possible from the background noise many of our students experience in residential homes where the tv or radio can be playing almost constantly. To do this, we have to bring the music over to people and sing and play close to them accompanied by lots of engaging eye contact, expression and a “live” sound. I also make sure that I provide lots of drama and contrast in playing quiet, louder, slow and faster and that there is a variety of sounds created from a range of instruments and voices to create changes in “timbre” Stops and starts are also utilized to create drama and to remember that “silence can be as important as sound!” ( soundabout)

To help students with PMLD make sounds using instruments, body or voice ( pro-active domain) we initially reflect back involuntary sounds to highlight awareness of them, if the student is not making sound intentionally. The next step is to find accessible ways to make sound and to enable people to have as much control in doing this with minimal support. We have lots of different instruments so people can experience the soft and resonant sounds of djembe drums or the pure metallic sound of a tone chime. We have lots of small shakers and hand held percussion instruments that are easy to hold and string them on to belts if the player does not want to hold the instrument for too long. This way it can be held and released at the players will. For tuned instruments we’ve had great fun with a small child’s accordion and playing guitar chords on garageband on the ipad.

Our students with PMLD have different musical preferences and we constantly review how we can accommodate their needs within the class. Some students find it very difficult to relax within the class unless there is some music. For other students especially with sensory processing issues we have to be aware that loud sounds can be distressing and we have to make sure the volume of the music does not become too loud. For some students ( as Coralie said) experiencing touch stimuli enables them to more readily engage with the music as it seems to provide a focus that grounds them and allows them to enjoy listening.

The real joy comes in making music and sound interactively and Keith’s poems and chants do this beautifully. Working with Keith has inspired us to look for call and response songs and to create our own songs within which there is turn taking between music makers and a rich musical conversation emerges. It’s really important to leave time and space to as Keith says to “see what happens” and be ready to respond to our students and allow their input to flourish.

During the sessions we have learnt to look for “magical moments”. One of these was when we sang: “come and gather” a “campfire” song (written by Sarah) where we all sat close together in a circle around a flickering fire on the ipad. Something about the closeness and swaying to the music created a wonderful connection and calm between everyone. Another was when we marched around the room chanting and holding birch wands and re-enacting the ancient tradition of “ beating the bounds” There was a feeling of excitement and energy amongst our students. Is it the music, the movement, proximity to one another? We’re still figuring it out but when these moments happen we know we’re on to something good!!

Keith writes:

Our aim is to bring music, song, poetry, dance and storytelling together in a creative and accessible format for adults with severe and profound and multiple learning disabilities.  Both Sarah and Emmie are singers and musicians with a vast knowledge of folk song. Sorted!

And here, as a taster, here is our chant of The Great North Wood.  This can be performed as a poem using call and response but also as a circle dance, as the words suggest, or as both together.  Emmie has set it to music, so it is now a song: and so then, of course, we can perform it as a song, a poem using call and response, and a dance, all  at the same time.  We have also had guidance from British Sign Language users and teachers so in addition the chant is signed. An interactive poem, sung to live music, danced and signed at the same time.

A Guardian reporter, should one ever come and join us, might describe the workshop as an example of ‘Gesamtkunstwerk.’ We just think of it as putting it all together.

The Chant Of The Great North Wood

If come you can

Then come you should

To join us all

At the Great North Wood

Hand to hand

Each to each

We dance around

The copper beech

Eye to eye

So we can see

Us dance around

The old oak tree

If come you can

Then come you should

To join us all

At the Great North Wood

Side by side

Come and go

We dance around

The mistletoe

Toe to toe

You and me

We dance around

The rowan tree

If come you can

Then come you should

To join us all

At The Great North Wood

Circle dance

Beneath the sky

Our circle

Has no I

Root and tree

Flower and leaf

The Great North Wood

Beyond belief

If come you can

Then come you should

To join us all

At The Great North Wood

Anyone wanting more information on The Great North Wood is welcome to contact or by twitter at @Soundtracks16



A couple of sensory stories

Hi there again…

Fresh from my day of music and storytelling sessions I thought I would share a couple of stories with you. My version of the Gunpowder Plot Story, which we worked on for the past couple of weeks and and The Highwayman story that I created today.

The Gunpowder Plot story I have to say thanks to the people on Joanna Grace’s Facebook page who shared their stories and ideas for Bonfire Night sensory storytelling. The Highway Man was a bit last minute today as needed to fill in with a story last minute. So I could call it my ten minute Highway Man story… gather what props you can and random props you have with you. I got most of the ideas from when Keith Park, Emmie Ward, Coralie Oddy and I did our Great North Wood Storytelling – The Highwaymen (and women) was one of our themes. But both were sort of creating the story around props I already had. Thanks Emmie for a few of those on display in the tweeted pic 🙂

The Gunpowder Plot

  • Now we gather around the fire and remember, remember the 5th of November! (fire on ipad and candle scent)
  • bonfireA long time ago In 1605, there was man called Guy Fawkes. (chime)
  • A long time ago In 1605, there was a King called James 1. King James was not very popular with Guy and and his friends. They were annoyed about the King and his government. (Wear crown and say ‘no we don’t like you!’ but can also say we don’t like you as King but we like you as …. say their name)
  • So, Guy Fawkes and his friends decided to have a plot, the gunpowder plot. They wanted to blow up the parliament. (Popping candy on hand/eat)
  • They filled 36 barrels with gunpowder! They planted them under the cellars of the Houses of Parliament – ready for a big explosion. (Cedar wood scent for barrels) (can emphasise the secret through quiet voice)
  • However, there was a traitor in the group! One of Guy Fawkes friends! He got worried about all the people who would get blown up. He sent a letter to his friend warning him! (Big Ben chimes on Big Mac)
  • So the police, the guards of parliament arrived – on their horses (clip clop) they went down the stairs (walking sound) and crept slowly (shhhh) and….. bang! The plot was rumbled! The plotters were arrested, tortured and executed. (Bang on the drum)
  • Now we sit and remember remember the 5th of November. We light a bonfire (fire on iPad and bonfire scent candle)
  • And sit and watch fireworks (fireworks torch and sounds or app)
  • Then go home for a nice cup of tea (have a cup of tea/tea break)


The Highwayman

It was Autumn in the woods and the leaves were gently falling

(leaves in a basket – can handle them or drop them on people/the floor)

The leaves were red, yellow, orange, green, brown

(say whatever colours you find – show the colours – can spread them between different people rather than person by person)

Animals were looking for food and the wind was rustling in the trees

(rainmaker or shaker or similar sound)

There was a damp smell in the wood – after the rain

(cedarwood or similar smell – it sounds a bit like the musty leaves, but you could also get musty leaves)

Then suddenly!! The sound of horses hooves

(clapping sticks/pieces of wood – we have some round slices of wood – we had enough for everyone to make the sound who wanted to – we also sung ‘Horsy Horsy don’t you stop because it is a favourite song of one of the people in the session)

It was a carriage with wheels going around!

(rolled hoop – saying ‘and the hoop rolled past….’ And gave a chance to push if people wanted – if not you can find anything that goes around as a visual stimuli)

There were rich people inside the carriage, enjoying looking at their jewels and money

(glass nuggets, money, or anything jewel like – we had a lot of baskets to hand so I handed a basket to everyone and then put the nuggets in each persons basket and encouraged them to look through them and be interested in them J)

But they didn’t know that someone was waiting for them! There was a swish of a cloak!

(piece of material – or a cloak if you have one – the material I grabbed was quite light so I swished it past people and over some people and gave the chance to feel)

And the brim of a hat

(feel a hat – I found a straw hat which was not really a highway man but did the job of being a hat)

The Highway Man was waiting and he said “Stand and Deliver! Your Money or Your Life!”

 (encouraged people to repeat the words ‘stand and deliver’ and sung that bit of the song)

He took all their money and jewels

(one person had a cloth bag and asked people for their money and they tipped their nuggets into the bag)

Then he rode off

(clip clop sounds)

And the animals continued looking for food and the leaves rustled in the wind

(rainshaker again – or whatever you used)

I also added on a bit about the highway man sitting by a fire and had the fire app on the ipad and also the scent of a bonfire candle – but that might make it a bit too long)

I then did a bit of call and response with ‘The Highwayman’ poem.



Montessori and its usefulness as good practice when working with people with learning disabilities

I have just been looking back to the power point and hand out that I made for the training day I gave to my colleagues in L’Arche back in 2009. It was the subject of one of the thrice yearly (I think they were) training days that I organised for the support assistants who worked in the the day provision workshops. I really continue to feel strongly about the links between Montessori philosophy/education and good practice for working with people with learning disabilities. Don’t get me wrong I am open to other methods and love learning new skills, however, my Montessori training and work has remained a constant source of inspiration.

Later that same year (2009), when I was first seriously working towards working in the museum sector, I was invited by the the then leader of the education team to carry out a week or two’s work experience at the London Transport Museum. As part of that work experience I carried out several observations of how nursery aged children interacted with the museum – as it was then. I then wrote up extensive notes into a report for the museum, which included my reflections and suggestions for ways forward.

The following text is the hand out that I created for L’Arche and then adapted for the London Transport Museum. The actual notes and the power point are not included here. Let me know what you think and if you are interested in hearing more or perhaps even asking me for some consultancy? (Better get something about work in there!) 🙂

Just please bear in mind that I wrote the handout back in 2009. My role at the time was Day Provision Co-ordinator and I supervised the then five different workshop leaders. It wonder if I what I would write the same and different if I was compiling an up to date list…

The handout is/was as follows:

Questions: (Inspired by the Montessori Method)

What do you think the workshop does well and has to offer the people with learning disabilities who come to it?

What aspects do people like about working in the workshop? What is unique about the workshop?

What things do you feel the workshop could do better with in what it offers people with learning disabilities? Are people as independent and in control as possible?

Environment: (How the workshop space is set up.)

  • Is there order in the environment?
  • Does everything have its place?
  • Do people know where to find everything they need without the help of an assistant?
  • Can the people reach everything?
  • Is everything within their reach appropriate? (So you don’t need to say no or stop someone from taking something.)
  • Are there any unnecessary distractions in the physical space? (E.g. large colourful pictures and or objects.)
  • Are people working in a space that is appropriate for them? (E.g. sitting, standing and with where in the room they are and who else is near where they are working.)
  • Is there enough opportunity for movement in the work place and within the activities themselves?

Daily routine: (Timing of things)

  • Is the timing of daily events clear?
  • Does everyone know what is happening and when?
  • Is the routine as it is working for everyone or do people require changes?
  • Is everyone clear about the work they are doing, goals/expectations, boundaries?

Activities/Work: (In the environment)

  • Are they suitable for people?
  • Are they too difficult? If they are, is there a simpler or part activity that could take its place?
  • Have you observed, broken down and tried the different movements needed for an activity?
  • Could some people be challenged more?
  • What new skills could people learn and be involved in?
  • Is there a particular skill that the people are expressing a desire to refine? If yes, how can you support them with this?
  • Are people choosing their activities?
  • Do the activities have a clear purpose and meaning?
  • Are there any jobs that assistants are doing, that adults with learning disabilities could be doing? (E.g. getting cups and taking them back at tea break.) Remember we are enabling people to be as independent as possible. What may seem hard work the time will be worth it in the long run.)

Assistants: (As teachers)

  • Do you have a positive attitude to everyone in the workshop?
  • Is there favouritism?
  • Are you aware of your prejudices?
  • Do you approach people in a positive way?
  • Are you careful about not criticising their work, even in a subtle way? (You can show the activity at another point, rather than criticise at the time. Or look at the appropriateness of the activity)
  • Do you value all activities and work the same?
  • Do you allow people to take their time and repeat where necessary? Do you give people time to finish their work cycle?
  • Are you doing too much for people? (Think about even the small things/parts of the process.)
  • Do you ensure that you don’t interfere when the person is concentrating on their work? (Even by speaking to them with a positive comment! Concentration is a very important skill to develop.)
  • Do you make sure that you don’t constantly praise people? (People should not rely on others to feel good. The aim is that it comes from within.)
  • Are assistants clear with people about when the person can make a decision and when they can not?
  • Are people allowed to make all possible decisions?
  • Do you take time to sit back and observe?

What areas do you feel you need more support in?

 Some quotes about Montessori education.

‘An adult can substitute himself for a child by acting in his place, but also by subtly imposing his own will, substituting it for that of the child. When this happens it is no longer the child that acts but the adult working through the child,’ Montessori.

‘The most important discovery is that a child returns to a normal state through work…. A child’s desire to work represents a vital instinct since he cannot organise his personality without working; a man builds himself through working.’  Montessori

It is important for us to know the nature of a child’s work. When a child works, he does not do so to attain some further goal. His objective is the work itself, and when he has repeated an exercise and brought his own activities to an end, this end is independent of external factors.’

‘It is necessary for the child to have this order and stability in the environment because he is constructing himself out of the elements of the environment… it is his foundation.’  Montessori

“A child’s different inner sensibilities enable him to choose from his complex environment what is suitable and necessary for his growth. They make the child sensitive to some things, but leave him indifferent to others. When a particular sensitiveness is aroused in a child. It is like a light that shines on some objects but not on others, making of them his whole world’  Montessori


Session Format

Hello again,

I have been doing plenty of writing to describe the music sessions that I lead in L’Arche and so I thought it might be useful if I share the format that I use for them.

The sessions usually last about two hours with a twenty minute- half an hour tea break in the middle.

I am going to share the Bonfire Night session plan….

To continue from my previous blog entries… the session before the bonfire night one was about the rural work turning more to the towns and cities with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Elements included watching the Pandemonium section of the London Olympic Opening Ceremony. We beat on large metal and plastic flower pots and used glass nuggets to represent money in a noisy way….

I write the plan beforehand but then add any adaption I make (hence different tenses) – and there are often plenty of on the spot ideas!

As always I have many thanks to give to my fellow colleagues for taking part in the session.

Where you see the * and ** and *** you can see the ideas I learned from Emmie Ward. In particular her use of the Big Mack as a musical instrument and for recording voice. Emmie also has great techniques for the inclusion of people’s vocalisations and interests into songs.  I also learned the songs for this session from Emmie. I’ll ask Emmie to share more about that at some point as she has lots of great techniques 🙂

Bonfire Night  3rd November 2016
Attention Grabber Activity: Firework App on IpadFirstly just me taking it around before the hello song… everyone else got a turn in the soundscape
Soundscape: Bonfire Night Ssss of a Fizzy drink being opened, crackling of popping candy with water, firework app on ipad, sliding whistle, (rain maker (firework falling sound), crackling paper, bang of the drum (we said 1, 2, 3, bang – everyone has the opportunity to hit drum on the word bang) peoples vocal sounds on Big Mack to play (integrate their interests) *

Activity:We’re all walking along to the fire’  song – action: we poured salt through a flower pot into a small washing up bowl and said it was gunpowder for the gunpowder plot and listened to how it made a quiet sound and we needed to be quiet… can say shhh –

Activity (Contd.): I then said let’s listen to find out if the plan worked! – I asked: Will there be the sound of Big Ben chiming or the sound of an explosion? We counted down and then… heard… yes big ben chiming (iPad) so the plot failedName activity: (soundabout) beat X 4 then name three times and move on. (we did one name and then another) This sort of connected as if naming the names of the conspirators pouring gun powder. (could link this more to the plot or being part of something in future) **

Rhyme: Remember, remember, poem call and response (I actually did this later in storytelling)

Rhythm: Boom Whackers – continue ‘hit, rest, rest, rest’ activity, with everyone having a chance to play them. We stamp feel throughout to keep a beat and i renew the rhythm in-between every person, but anyone can play any pattern they like as it all fits… I play it on the low red one, but again anyone can do anything… The stamping and me doing it in-between seems to help people to create a connecting rhythm.

Vocal Warm Up:Included Do re mi.


London’s Burning

Ring of Fire (after singing through we repeated burn burn bit and people took turns to move the fire poi) ***

Great Balls of Fire (added peoples own endings to ‘Goodness Gracious) ***