Why make pretend play sensory gardens? We all learn about our surroundings through our senses; therefore, the earlier your child has a chance to explore the world around him through play the better start in life he will have. Your goal is to provide activities to stimulate the senses that is turn help your child learn about his surroundings. Children learn by using all their senses; therefore, plan intentional opportunities for children to actively use their senses as they explore the world, starting with their pretend sensory garden.
On this blog we already have posts titled Sensory Gardens for Kids with Sensory Processing Issues and Urban Sensory Gardens for Kids with Sensory Issues ~Versatile Balconies and Decks. If both of these strategies to stimulate the senses of your child with autism or sensory processing disorder (SPD) in not feasible in your home, Anne Zachry, a pediatric occupational therapist with 24 years experience providing quality OT to children, along with caregiver instruction and support, has the solution! She suggest “Tabletop Sensory Gardens” which is a therapy project by Ashley Selsted-Sianez.
This tabletop sensory garden is full of textured sensory flowers and colorful, various sized items that children will enjoy touching and exploring! As the child feels the different flowers, be sure to have her name the colors and explain how each one feels. Think of it almost like a “sensory box” with the items on stems beautifully arranged in a vase!
Pretend Play Sensory Gardens to Stimulate the Senses
An objective of a real sensory garden design is to encourage users to interact with the plants, often directly, for instance by breaking off leaves to smell or taste. So all plants must be non-toxic, hardy and sturdy enough to withstand handling. Another reminder is make gardening FUN and that all involved think it is PLAY!
In the table top sensory garden the same applies but for the eating part as all the items are fake items.
If you want your child to get more sensory stimulation try a Pretend Play Sensory Gardens in a Bin. These are another twist on real gardens or table top ones. Instead of a vase, the fake flowers, objects and critters will be placed in a bin with soil, sand, or another medium you and your child prefer. You can have many more objects to manipulate because they do not have to be on a stem.
Pretend Sensory Gardens can be outdoors or indoors depending what suit your child’s needs. If they are in a small enough bin, you can carry your garden outside when it is suitable to be out. (I was going to say “when it is warm enough to go outside.” but I have learned this applies only to folks in eastern Canada but for many in hot climates it would be “bring the container outdoors when it is not too hot to be outdoors!)
A pretend sensory garden may even be part of your child’s “sensory diet’. It can be made is a sand box or other suitable container; however, be sure if you leave it outside that you cover it when not in used because you do not want it to become the neighborhood kitty litter box!
When choosing objects for this pretend sensory garden, look for objects with different textures, sizes, weight and colors. While playing in this garden it is a great time to learn new words and concepts like: heavier/lighter – shorter/longer – bigger/smaller -on top/below, warmer/colder – wet/dry, etc. Also place similar objects and learn the words “same/different”. Learn to count and follow directions like, “How many red, wiggly worms can we dig up?”
Child Cannot Tolerate Dirty Hands
- If your child cannot tolerate dirt on his hands this could be a reason to use a different medium for the garden base like: sand, pebbles, wood pellets, bird seeds, etc.
- Provide toy gardening tools that he will love to use. Get a few toy trucks or tractors to add to the fun. Visit a real farm and then your little one can add pretending to be a real farmer while tending his play garden.
- Provide him with gardener’s gloves. Some companies make them for children also.
- Let him use recycled kitchen utensils or tweezers to catch little objects. Great way to develop fine motor skills!
- A pan with water nearby where your child can wash his hands now and then is helpful. Sometimes just knowing the option is nearby is enough to allow the child to play without the stress of wondering what to do IF he needs to wash his hands.
Have a Picky-Eater?
Go visit a farm or a farmer’s market to learn about crops that grow on farms. Teach your child the names of some of the fruits and vegetables you see. Get toy replicas, or pictures (you can laminate or cover with plastic wrap so they last longer) of these foods to add to your pretend garden. When your child sees the same food on his plate it will be a bit more familiar and much less scary to tolerate in his plate, to eventually smell, then on another day perhaps touch, and after many times of just being on the plate, one day he might touch it to his teeth or tongue, …get the picture? See how long the process is?
A wonderful book to help you is the parenting book written by Melanie Potock , MA, CCC-SLP, Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids: How to Teach Your Child About the Joy of Food! Practical and Surprising Tips from a Pediatric Feeding Specialist. Her numerous, practical, parenting tips will help you find solutions to many of your child’s eating problems.
The Benefits of Sensory Play
We know that young children are oriented toward sensory experiences. From birth, children have learned about the world by touching, tasting, smelling, seeing, and hearing. Sensory play also contributes in crucial ways to brain development. Think of it as “food for the brain.” Stimulating the senses sends signals to children’s brains that help to strengthen neural pathways important for all types of learning. For example, as children explore sensory materials, they develop their sense of touch, which lays the foundation for learning other skills, such as identifying objects by touch, and using fine-motor muscles.
The materials children work with at the sand and water table have many sensory attributes — they may be warm or cool, wet or dry, rough or smooth, hard or soft, textured or slimy. Discovering and differentiating these characteristics is a first step in classification, or sorting — an important part of preschoolers’ science learning and discovery. – By Suzanne Gainsley, HighScope Early Childhood Specialist taken from the article titled: Look, Listen, Touch, Feel, Taste: The Importance of Sensory Play