Interactive Sensory Station With Makey Makey

About: I am an Edtech consultant who loves all things maker but has a serious problem with the amount of cardboard I collect for my coding projects :)

Design a sensory station for students who need sensory breaks or help with fine motor development.


Makey Makey Classic, Cardboard, aluminum foil, extra alligator clips, jumper wires, conductive materials, switches, playdough, electrical tape, Chromebooks w/ Scratch, foam (for swtiches), USB extender (optional), copper tape

Step 1: Co-Designing Questions With Students

For schools that can't always have expensive sensory rooms or equipment, they can use everyday objects, cardboard and the Makey Makey to create an interactive sensory station with their students.  This isn't necessarily a "disposable" station, but if it gets bumped or dropped, it can easily be re-made just by grabbing another cardboard box!

Before creating this project, it is important to discuss what your student likes and wants. Each board should contain some items or Scratch designs that engages your student and helps them with interact with the board.

  • Is this board to help with occupational therapy, or to help during calming periods?
  • What kind of sounds do they prefer?
  • What types of animations do they like?
  • Is this going to be automated (press a button and watch) or more interactive (control a Sprite or sound)?
  • Types of materials for stimulate touch. Do they prefer soft things, buttons, fuzzy, etc
  • What device are you running the program on? Will you need a speaker or projector?

Step 2: Designing Your Sensory Station.

I prefer to use cardboard because it is lightweight, moveable and comes in many different shapes. By using boxes, you can hide the Makey Makey and all the wires (except for the USB power) inside the box.

I will either set the sensory box on a desk, the student's wheelchair, or on the floor based on what the student prefers.  Depending on your set-up, sometimes getting an USB extender is handy to keep the computer at a distance from the sensory board.

  1. On rough paper/computer, sketch out where your sensory items will be placed. Involve your students in this. Sometimes we forget placement is key to our students.
  2. Once the sketch is laid out, set the conductive/sensory items on the board and have the student reach and test them to make sure the design works for them.
  3. Determine what they might control in your Scratch program (sound, movement, backgrounds, light, etc).

On this sample Sensory Box, the student and I chose the following:

For Sensory:

  • Foil covered coasters (one rough, one smooth)
  • A carpet sample (with a tinfoil sensor underneath)
  • Playdough squishy sensor
  • Copper tape
  • Pipe Cleaners

For Fine Motor Skills

  • A toggle switch
  • A button (using an arcade button)
  • Door lock with chain
  • A rotating dial
  • A bracelet or wand for the ground contact wire

Step 3: Building Your Sensory Station

Now that you have the design plans, it's time to build! For this build, we will be using the back of the Makey Makey to access all the buttons (up, down, left, right, space, W, A, S, D, F, G) so we will need to insert the jumper wires into the back of the Makey Makey, as well as, attach the alligator clips.

  1. Lay out all your components onto your cardboard box (pic 1)
  2. Using light pencil, mark approximately where the items are so that we can drill/cut holes in the box for your alligator clips to make contact (close the circuit).
  3. Since we are trying to keep all the wires hidden, the Makey Makey will go inside the box face down so that that back of the Makey Makey with the jumper wires and alligator clips are pointing upward.
  4. For keeping the jumpers connected, one little hack I like to do is to use electrical tape on the header and wires.It secures them nicely but is still easy to remove when finished (see pic 2)
  5. Now we set all out items on the board over the holes that we made. By having them over the holes, we can attach the alligator clips directly from inside the box to the bottom of the object Another little hack is to add more tinfoil to the back so you have plenty of conductivity and a place to add clips.(see Pic 3)
  6. Now it's time to connect your wires. Use the Makey Makey planner to plan out which wires will connect to which objects. It's going to look like a crazy mess of wires, but the planner will help guide you to making your connections (pic 4 and PDF)
  7. For individual touch objects, remember that the student needs to be in contact with a ground/earth wire. I will often attach this to a "magic wand" (can be as simple as a pencil with copper tape, or wrapped in tin foil) or a conductive bracelet.
  8. For objects that are a press button, sliders or switch, you can connect the ground wire directly to the object or to where the two connections meet (The door chain has one wire connected to the lock and the ground wire connected to the holder). Also, Colleen and Aaron Graves' sensor switch with tin foil is an easy way to make push buttons.

Step 4: Programing Your Sensory Board With Scratch

Now it's time to give your student the audio or visual sensory component.

  1. Open up Scratch and create a new project. If you haven't created a Scratch account, I highly recommend it.
  2. Under the code blocks to the left, go to the bottom to Add Extensions and click on the Makey Makey extension. This will add the MM green code blocks to your scripts.
  3. Based on what you and the students are creating, you can add/change backdrops, sprites and sounds. Many of the Scratch tutorials each cover these ideas.
  4. I will often add comments to the script group just to remind me which object activiates the Scratch program.

For this Sensory board we added background music, sound effects, and sprites. Each object on the board controls how they react on the screen. Here is the link that you can use and remix for your own students.



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