Kate Broyles wanted to create a store where everyone is welcome. So she opened Sensory Play Date in Carmel, a specialty toy store focused on enriching lives through sensory play. Each item that’s offered in her store is hand-picked by Broyles herself, who is also a pediatric occupational therapy practitioner. The store is meant to provide a calming space and offer events such as sensory crafts and play dates.
Indy’s Child talked with Broyles about Sensory Play Date and why she started a store to meet the sensory needs of the community.
What made you start Sensory Play Date?
I wanted there to be a space where families could come and interact with items by using their various senses while being able to be themselves in a safe and calming atmosphere. In addition to providing retail items, it was important to me to include a sensory room, provide education about the sensory spectrum, and become a part of the community. I designed every aspect of the store with people who have autism and/or sensory sensitivities in mind, which was aided by my years of experience in this field as well as my own sensitivities. The store opened its doors on August 23, 2019, which was a date selected to honor the birthday and memory of a dear friend who inspired my passion for the world in autism approximately 27 years ago; a passion I still have to this day.
How does your knowledge in Occupational Therapy inform decisions about what to carry or services to offer?
In addition to my schooling and work experience, I have taken many continuing education courses on sensory processing disorder and other sensory-related subjects in order to increase my knowledge for selecting products and providing education about the sensory spectrum. In OT, we often learn to view products by the benefits and skills they offer.
When I select an item for my store, I consider the sensory benefits in addition to whether it can additionally address focus, fine motor skills, social skills, emotional regulation, or anything else that can assist performance at home, in public, or in the classroom. One of the services I offer includes activities and consultation about a child’s sensory preferences and recommendations I might have based on my OT experience and evidence-based training/education.
I additionally am able to use my OT knowledge to provide insight to anyone that comes into the store and wants to better understand the sensory needs of the person they are buying for and recommendations for products that could be beneficial based on the information or observations provided.
You offer play dates at your store. Tell us about that.
The sensory play date has been evolving based on the needs of the community and the business itself. There are currently a few different options that can occur during a play date and each play date can be modified to better suit the needs of an individual. A parent can arrange for me to have a play session with just one child or a small group of kids where I will provide a variety of games, activities, and/or crafts followed by an informal consultation to address any sensory-based questions or concerns a parent might have.
If a parent is just looking for fun activities or crafts for their child in a sensory-friendly space without the consultation, there are now options available with two women with related experience that have recently been collaborating with Sensory Play Date. Ashley Archie has many years of experience with children and has her own line of sensory bins she sells, called Buzy Boxes, and is now offering sensory crafts, among other activities, as part of a play date. Her mother, Valerie Archie, has her own preschool, 1 Smart Cookie, and is hoping to expand by offering themed activities during small play groups on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
The goal for all of the play dates is for the children to have a fun sensory experience with the option of feedback/insight from an occupational therapy practitioner. Though we haven’t had a large number of play dates as of yet, primarily due to the pandemic, the feedback has been very positive. By providing options to cater to the needs or desires of each person interested in a play date, we can provide a unique experience that can be beneficial to all.
What other kind of unique services or programs do you offer children and their parents?
An additional service I offer free of charge is a private shopping experience. This can be beneficial for someone whose schedule doesn’t align with my hours; who would prefer to have the store closed to the public to limit over-stimulation, the spread of germs or anything else; and anyone who would like to consult with me about an individual’s sensory needs and product recommendations without others present. As a way to be a part of the community, I have also encouraged collaborations with other individuals offering beneficial services. For example, a local woman, Joyce Fields, displays samples of her custom-made adaptive clothing line for adults and children, while also offering to meet at the store for measurements and consultations. Another local woman, Sharon Smith, offers training and demonstrations on different types of communication she uses with two of her adult children who have autism.
There have also been therapists and retired special education teachers interested in offering group sessions for yoga, social skills, speech skills, occupational therapy, and more. I am always encouraging anyone to offer additional services that can benefit from my space and align with my overall vision for the store.
What are your most popular products?
The most popular products tend to shift over time. During the beginning of the pandemic, for example, larger items for a sensory room, such as a bubble tube or cozy canoe, became rather popular. Currently, fidgets seem to be the most popular items, particularly with teens and adults. Oral sensory products, such as chew necklaces, multi-sensory products, and weighted items, such as stuffed animals and lap pads, have been consistently popular as well.
In what ways have you adapted your store to be friendly to customers (big and small) with special sensory needs?
I designed my store layout to provide enough space to allow for wheelchairs as well as to decrease crowding which could lead to over-stimulation. I additionally added double doors to the entrance and measured the height of the checkout counter to make sure the space was accessible to all. To address possible sensory challenges, I used calming colors throughout the store, use softer lightbulbs and light covers for the halogen lights, play calming music without vocals, created a calming sensory room, and provided unscented soap for sensitive skin in the bathroom. I frequently receive positive feedback about how calming the space feels, which is very rewarding.
Is there anything else that our readers should know?
I am moving to Canada with my family this summer and am very much hoping that I am able to find a passionate person to purchase the store and allow Sensory Play Date to continue without me. Opening and running this store has been an incredible experience and it has been amazing to see how embraced it has been by so many families, therapists, and teachers throughout the state. Sensory Play Date is still in its formative years and has incredible potential for continued growth. As difficult as it is for me to step away from it, I cannot wait to see where the next owner takes it. Please contact me if you might be interested in this sensational business opportunity. I would love to speak with you. In the meantime, Sensory Play Date will continue to be fully committed to providing the same level of beneficial products and services as it always has.
Sensory Play Date is located at 2466 E. 116th Street in Carmel. For more information, visit sensoryplaydate.com