First it was the Sensory Box, then the Sensory Diet and, literally thinking outside ‘the box’, schools and families are using a sensory garden for kids full of plants and accessories to stimulate the senses. Plants and accessories are selected on the basis they will provide experiences for seeing, smelling, hearing, touching, tasting, pushing, moving, learning about body positions and movement, etc.
Mid-April, depending your location, is the perfect time to start a sensory garden for children with sensory issues so they can enjoy and be part of the garden. This project can be as small as a planter or window box to a real, backyard, walkabout garden with places to stroll and sit. The design and layout can provide a stimulating journey through the senses, heightening awareness and bringing positive learning experiences.
Or on a small scale, an herb garden is a good way to start as herbs have a wealth of sensory awakening attributes. Live in a city? See post: Urban Sensory Gardens ~ Versatile Balconies and Decks
When I was a child growing up next door to my grandparents, one of my fondness memories is helping my grandmother with their vegetable garden. We spent hours together, sixty years of age difference apart, caring for the garden. Then while raising our three children, we always had a vegetable garden which must have left fond memories for them also as now our grown children each have their own vegetable gardens in their backyards. From buying the first seeds to eating the produce from your very own garden each step in the process is a teaching and sharing experience to the sensory child and to all children.
Sensory Gardens for Kids:
Plants and Accessories to Stimulate the Senses
An objective in 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!
Chose plants that are durable enough to withstand frequent brushing or handling. Look for textures in soft flowers, fuzzy leaves, springy moss, rough bark, succulent leaves, prickly seed pods. Enjoy the textures of sage, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, both types of parsley, mint.
Accessories can include rocks and sculptures in a variety of shapes, sizes and textures. Use sculpted handrails for safety and added textures.
Rosemary, sage, tarragon, fragrant creeping herbs, such as thyme, are planted along pathways, walking or wheeling on them will release their aroma intense smell like rosemary or peppermint. Rosemary also has a very good texture and in the spring/summer it has tiny pretty purple flowers. All these herbs are great for cooking too!
With over 700 cultivated varieties of fragrant smelling Heather you are sure to find one for your growing region. Heather is a low-growing plant with evergreen leaves. The short stems have many branches. The most common type of wild heather produces bell-like, purple flowers at the top of the stems and branches. The flowers of heather plants produce excellent nectar and bees produce delicious honey.
Roses are a good choice in flowers if you know how to deal with ‘its’ thorny issues’.
Crushing and smelling a plant part works well.
Use plants in all shades of green foliage with various leaf shapes, and different colors of flowers. Choose colorful plants that change through the season offering a new facet with each one.
Mobiles, bird baths and sculptures can add visual stimuli as well as sunlight and shadows dancing along all surfaces.
Accessories for enhancing visual pleasure include color flood lights, torches, mirrors, and gazing globes.
Have herbs like mints and chives to provide both scent and taste opportunities. Cherry Tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries, edible flowers, fruit trees and the endless vegetables will offer the taste buds an array of choices.
The courgette also grows a flower and the flower is edible too.
“But what could be better than going Holloweening with the pumpkins we grew ourselves in our sensory garden or eating pumpkin pie or muffins?” say three of my granddaughters.
Kids will hear the sound of wind rushing through the leaves, grasses rustling and seed pods of some plants rattling. The eucalyptus tree has a fantastic sound to it because when there is a breeze it almost rattles.
Have non-plant materials (wind chimes, fountain bubbling).
Birdsongs will fill the garden if birds baths, bird-attracting plants, bird feeders and bird houses are provided and maintained.
Accessories for bringing sounds to the garden include waterfalls, fountains, water harps and wind chimes.
The beauty of a Sensory Garden for kids is that you can have the sensory stimulation benefits and like the saying ‘you can have your cake and eat it too’.
We have seven senses. Sensory integration is the neurological process that organizes sensation from one’s own body and the environment and makes it possible to use the body effectively within the environment. Sensory processing is the brain receiving, interpreting, and organizing input from all of the active senses at any given moment.
The vestibular system explains the perception of our body in relation to gravity, movement and balance.
Proprioception is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement. This sense is very important as it lets us know exactly where our body parts are, how we are positioned in space and to plan our movements. Examples of our proprioception in practice include being able to clap our hands together with our eyes closed, write with a pencil and apply with correct pressure, and navigate through a narrow space. Read more about our senses in article What are the 7 senses?
by Robin Moore, is a great resource for parents.
- Read Special Needs Book Review’s interview with Natasha Etherington here.
- What benefits do you see in a Sensory Garden?