It’s always exciting to hear about new bloggers on the block and this finalist in the Newcomer category of the BAPS Awards is no exception.
An ex teacher who has invested her expertise into helping support pupils with sensory and additional needs in mainstream settings, Helen is here to talk about why she started Spark Sensory Ltd and what she hopes to achieve with it.
What inspired you to start your blog?
It was a combination, really, of a number of factors, the ‘perfect storm’ perhaps. My eldest son was starting school (mainstream school as both my sons are neurotypical) and having been a mainstream teacher and SENCO for 16 years; I felt very much that now was the time to have a break from the system. I could feel myself becoming more and more fatigued with the ever-challenging process of supporting pupils with additional needs in mainstream settings. It felt like a continual upward struggle with very little training and support being offered from local authorities. So, I made the bold decision to resign from my post and create a work life balance for myself and my young family that enabled me to do the school run as well as create a business that worked for me.
I left in July 2017 and by September, I was ready to launch my business Spark Sensory Ltd. The business aimed to deliver training and consultation on supporting pupils with sensory and behaviour needs in mainstream settings. I also decided, alongside my school and pre-school work, to deliver baby and toddler sensory classes, drawing on my early years knowledge and expertise as well as my experiences in delivering sensory curriculums for pupils in schools.
Organically, off the back of this, I realised there was a need for sensory play sessions for children with additional needs of all ages and I decided to run not-for-profit sensory play classes in the community to allow a safe space for parents to come and interact with their child in sensory based games and play activities. These sessions enhanced the holistic approach to my business and meant that in less than 12 months I had transitioned to working almost full time, but in a flexible manner, delivering training and consultation in education settings, baby and toddler sensory play classes in the community and additional needs focused sessions for families, as well as supporting a residential short breaks centre for pupils with autism by delivering monthly play sessions for their residents. It was a rollercoaster of a year and not without its challenges.
The blog has developed over time but I now run two social media channels: @spark.sensory and @baby.sparks. Both accounts offer insight into sensory needs, tips, ideas and suggestions of sensory play activities, developmental challenges and milestones as well as a dose of reality and humour, which I think is really, really important.
What other blogs/organisations do you turn to for advice?
I love to follow occupational therapy blogs as a tremendous amount of the work I do in schools with teachers and teaching assistants is inspired by occupational therapy approaches. @therapyforkidslondon and @sensoryexpert are my two favourites. I also follow some fantastic speech therapists, one of which often collaborates with me @saltandlightstc and I find @peachy_speech brilliant for her energy and ideas. Sarah at @sensorysparkle and James at @storiesaboutautism are two lovely friends I’ve made through Instagram and it’s great to be able to nip online and say ‘how are you doing?’
Finally, I love Footprints. It’s a small, local charity that enriches the lives of children with disabilities through conductive education, physio and speech therapy. They are an amazing organisation and I often find that their younger children attend my baby and toddler sensory classes as well as accessing the support and interventions from Footprints.
Describe yourself in three words
Ridiculous big heart.
Crisps, always crisps!
Favourite thing to do if you have some ‘me’ time?
I have a Cavapoo dog called Maxi and she is my therapy! My favourite thing to do is chuck on the walking boots and head off for a long walk with her and my boys. I’m fortunate to live near some wonderful open spaces so throughout lockdown I’ve been able to head out every day for beautiful walks in the open air.
If there was a film of your life, what would it be called?
Gosh that’s a hard one, maybe ‘She thought she could, so she did… but not before a shed load of grafting, blood, sweat and tears!’
Which talent of yours are you most proud of?
I’m not sure whether it’s a talent but I am most proud of my creativity, which also means I have a ridiculously short attention span, but that can be a good thing too. My partner calls me a ‘corkscrew thinker’, and I think it’s a fairly good description of how my brain works most days.
If you could be one fictional character, who would you be?
Matilda – she’s a badass feminist!
What’s the closest thing to magic?
True, true love! And your child’s laughter.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start blogging?
Just go for it! Write from the heart about topics that interest you. There’s room for everyone!
What are you most looking forward to at this year’s BAPS Awards?
A really good night out, meeting people in person and just being able to let my hair down and have a good time.
The Baps Awards Ceremony takes place 4th November from 6.00pm. This year, due to COVID19 the event will be held virtually. But this doesn’t mean it won’t be a fab night where you can let your hair down! Join us for the ceremony – Sign up for free here.
The BAPS Awards
The BAPs (Bloody Awesome Parents) Awards allows SEND bloggers to be recognised for their talents, tales and achievements. Founded by Bringing Us Together and My Family, Our Needs, these awards celebrate SEND Bloggers everywhere. Click here to find out more…