The Long Island Children’s Museum, part of Nassau County’s famed Museum Row in Garden City, is dedicated to providing fun, educational exhibits, programs, and performances to children and their families. But with its vast open spaces—it’s housed in a converted airplane hangar—bright lights, noise, and overexcited visitors, for some children a visit can be overwhelming.
With the needs of those children in mind, the museum in October 2017 opened a new sensory room. The dedicated space is the latest component of LICM4all, an initiative that helps the museum better serve all children and families.
According to Beth Ann Balalaos, LICM4all program coordinator, the idea is a result of one of the museum’s past exhibits, Changes & Challenges, which let visitors experience what children with disabilities face every day. The small sensory "space" within that exhibit proved popular, and the idea to create a more enduring space took flight.
“Our new sensory room is permanent,” Balalos said. “It is a tool that offers families respite for 10 or 15 minutes. It’s a place where children can relax and self-regulate.”
Soft lighting and artwork provide a serene environment. Photo courtesy of LICM
The 10-foot-by-10-foot room is designed to accommodate one or two families (a parent and child) at a time. Lighting is soft and indirect, the ceiling and walls are made of special materials for noise control, and the whole space feels soothing and serene. There are a number of interactive elements, including:
- A weighted blanket and weighted stuffed worm: Both provide a sense of calm and comfort that can make a child feel more grounded.
- A Yogibo bean bag: The surrounding quality of the bean bag gives users a sense of ease. It’s also super comfy.
- Projection: Images on the wall as well as the dimmed lights offer a sense of tranquility.
- Gears wall: Children can manipulate the gears. Some experts say repetitive motion is often calming to those with sensory-processing disorders and those on the autism spectrum.
- Bubble wall: The flow of bubbles is soothing to look at.
- Glitter rods: The motion of the glitter moving back and forth is calming.
- Heat wall: This provides sensory stimulation.
Visitors are free to enter and leave the sensory room on their own. Visits are not timed, but it is the intention that families use the room for a short break and then return to the main museum area. “We want kids to feel comfortable, but we don’t want the room to be the only thing they do here,” said Maureen Mangan, director of communications and marketing at LICM.
In addition to the sensory room, the museum accommodates children with special needs and their families in other ways. As part of the LICM4all initiative, every other month the museum has "friendly hours," during which the entire museum’s lighting and sound are altered so children who are neurodivergent or who have other needs are more comfortable. Registration is required. A "friendly hours" Halloween-themed event is scheduled for October 21, 2017.
Also, during certain times museum performances are altered to accommodate an audience’s needs. There are "relaxed performances" and sensory-friendly theater, as well as ASL Interpreted Performances for children and families who are deaf or hard of hearing. Sensory backpacks, which contain noise-reducing headphones, weighted lap pads, fidget items, and PCS cards, are available for use; wheelchairs are available at the front desk.
The Long Island Children's Museum is located at 11 Davis Ave. in Garden City, not far from Roosevelt Field mall. It can be accessed via the Meadowbook State Parkway, Exit M4.