Sensory Rock offers children a safe place to play

Sheri Tos of Sensory Rock Gym (Photo credit: Parker Bowman, the Sentinel)

Sensory Rock opens its doors on their (TETER-designed) special needs gym and therapy facility.

Originally published by THE SENTINEL on December 28, 2019 by Parker Bowman, News Reporter

HANFORD – Local children, especially those with special needs, have a new place to feel safe and comfortable while playing.

Sensory Rock, a gym and therapy facility, is now open to all children. The facility’s recommended age range is for those 10 and younger, though Sensory Rock may be appropriate for older children with disabilities.

“I’m just under the impression that we need to establish a safe place for our community and especially for our special needs families,” owner Sheri Tos said. “They don’t have a lot and they tend to stay isolated in their homes.”

Located at 240 N. Irwin St. in downtown Hanford, the facility officially opened about two weeks ago, though an official grand opening is scheduled for March.

The gym is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Each hour-long session is limited to 25 children but reservations can be made online at Reservations are $12 per hour for the first child and $10 per hour for additional children.

The gym itself is made up of two floors of colorful activities for children to participate in. Downstairs features a child-sized replica of a downtown area, complete with a library and colorful storefronts. Children will also find a rock-climbing wall, hide-aways for quiet time and a variety of swings and monkey bars. Upstairs, the gym features a zipline leading to a pit of soft, colorful foam blocks, slides and a tea set.

“Children love it. They feel like it’s their place and that’s exactly what it is meant for,” Tos said. “I just love to see the excitement in their eyes while playing.”

The facility also hosts birthday parties.

The gym was designed by Troy Pfefferle of Fun Factory Sensory Gyms.

During the “soft opening,” Tos has been working with families to learn more about how children with disabilities respond to certain aspects of the gym, saying that she wants to really fine-tune the experience by the grand opening.

The facility’s three main areas of focus leading up to the grand opening include creating a concrete concept for the gym, attracting more therapists and planning educational workshops.

In addition to the gym, the facility offers therapy sessions for children on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The facility, equipped with six therapy rooms, offers speech therapy currently with other therapy methods coming soon.

“We just want to be there for all kids,” she said.

As a youth leader at her church, Tos met a child with special needs including ADHD, a brain injury and autism. It was her relationship with the child that sparked the inspiration for Sensory Rock.

She didn’t know how to help the child, so she tried to “box him in,” she said, by limiting snacks and play time. Not being able to reach the child made her feel awful, she said, and she would later realize she was going about things the wrong way and needed to meet the child in a way that made them comfortable.

After getting advice from her sister in Wisconsin, a special-needs teacher, Tos began learning ways to better understand those with autism and special needs.

She said that with Sensory Rock, she wants to offer a safe space for families who may feel uncomfortable elsewhere due to a child’s special needs or specific tics or behaviors that may cause unwanted attention in public.

“We can’t be everything to everyone but I want to come as close as possible,” she said.

Sheri Tos pushes son on the zipline at Sensory Rock in Hanford. (Photo credit: Parker Bowman, the Sentinel)