The Tiny Sensory House

By Karla Gray, M.Ed., LRT/CTRS | Posted on November 15, 2018

Tiny House Mecklenburg 410

Admit it! At some point in the past year or two, you got caught up in one of those “living tiny” shows on that channel you can never remember the name of. And if you’re like me, there was a moment (or 30) when you told yourself, “I can do that! I can downsize and live in a mobile shoebox while maintaining all the comforts I have now!” Then, reality hits and you take that tiny house off your bucket list with a little sadness. But for some of us at Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation, a 2017 Meet Me at the Park play spaces grant let us live out our tiny house dream! And not just any tiny house, but a sensory tiny house!

So, you may be wondering a few things right now. You may be wondering if we are actually living in the tiny house. Or, if our tiny house is really tiny? Chances are, you may even be wondering what a sensory house means. Does it talk? Does it smell funny? Is it a fairy tale house where you can pull off candy shingles?

Unfortunately, the answer to most of those questions is, “No, I wish.” But, our tiny house IS a tiny mobile playhouse that we load up on a really big truck and take to a different park every month. When we started the planning, we knew we wanted an inclusive experience for all our children and we wanted to be able to take it all over Mecklenburg County. We worked with our Park Services group to modify the shell of a playhouse to customize and create a play space that is kid sized and kid friendly. The exterior was painted to resemble the house from the movie “Up” — complete with big bright jumbo balloons on the corners of the porch. A picket fence with letters and pictures was created to go in the exterior “garden.” We were even about to create a pop-up that gives us another room for fun. A quiet loft with cushy body pillows we can clean was created, as were other indoor and outdoor elements for play.

I know, that doesn’t really answer your question about what makes it “sensory.” Sensory seems to be a buzz word in the recreation community these days and everyone wants to get on board, but sometimes we forget to explain what it means. For our tiny house, we looked at how to bring in as many sensory-friendly and sensory-seeking spaces and activities as we could pack into that tiny space. We tried to find something that would impact as many of the 21 (or more) senses we have. WAIT? WHAT? Yep, that number is correct. Most of us know about the five traditional senses that people have, but many of us did not know that humans have a LOT senses.

Some scientists speculate we have 9, 11, 15 or more than 21 senses. When you think about it, that makes a lot of sense (sorry for the pun!). When we talk about tactile sense or touch, we are talking about four different senses — pressure, pain, temperature and generalized touch. The same is true when we talk about taste. For our tiny house, we incorporated spaces, activities and opportunities for the additional sense of proprioception, balance, hunger, kinesthetic, equilibrium and several others. We also built our house with quiet retreat spaces in mind for times when our house visitors are feeling overwhelmed by their senses.

So, while we may not be able to live in our tiny sensory house, we have tried to make it welcoming, inviting and accessible for all children in our community. We are looking forward to hearing from you and seeing more communities become members of the tiny sensory house world.

The Tiny Sensory House will be at Arbor Glenn in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, on November 16 and 17. The dates for 2019 are:

  • February 20- 23
  • March 27-30
  • April 28
  • May 22-25

Learn more about the tiny sensory house.

Learn more about the Meet Me at the Park play spaces grants.



Karla Gray, M.Ed., LRT/CTRS, is a Senior TR Manager for Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation’s Therapeutic and Inclusive Recreation Services.