Have you ever thought about the abundance of hands-on experiences for children in the garden? What if you created a garden inspired by and solely focused on the senses? What would it look like?
What is Sense? The dictionary defines it as, “a faculty by which the body perceives an external stimulus; one of the faculties of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch.”
Most people are familiar with the five senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. However, we also have two additional senses. The vestibular sense, which is our balance and movement sense as well as proprioception, our body awareness sense.
The question I’m always asking when planning Outdoor Classrooms and nature-based curriculum is, “How can we enhance children’s outdoor experience by using their senses as a teaching tool?
Adding a Sensory Garden to your outdoor space is a great solution to enhancing the infant and toddler experience outdoors. These gardens are a self-contained garden area that allows visitors to enjoy a wide variety of sensory experiences. Sensory gardens can be designed in such a way as to be accessible and enjoyable for both disabled and non-disabled users.
Come join us for The FREE 5-Day Challenge: Sensory Gardens for Infants and Toddlers
When creating a Sensory Garden, it’s important to remember that all children experience senses differently. Some children will enjoy being outdoors while others will not. Sensory Gardens also come in all shapes and sizes and can easily be created on a shoe-string budget. The key is to start small and include your children in the process.
Here are a few ideas to get you started.
SIGHT: Add visually pleasing plants. Flowers, sculptures, and trees are wonderful additions to the garden. Choose plants that grow in interesting ways. Look for plants that like to climb up a trellis and/or flowers that have interesting shapes and colors.
HEARING: Think about what makes a noise when the wind blows. Wind chimes, tall grasses, seed pods and crunching sounds of leaves are good examples. What can you do to attract birds that sing? Add garden features such as birdhouses, feeders, and running water in birdbaths. Consider flowers that have seeds such as Sunflowers, Cornflowers and Black-Eyed Susans. The birds will come singing.
Smell: Add plants and herbs that have a subtle smell. Plants such as Gardenia and Honeysuckle are great choices. Mint, thyme, rosemary, and lavender are also wonderful herbs to add. Tip: plant herbs near a walkway so they release an aroma when you walk by.
Taste: Vegetables, edibles fruits, and herbs add wonderful opportunities for taste testing. If you can’t grow food in your outdoor space, consider creating a gathering place where you can eat outdoors. Eating outdoors is often overlooked. So, pack a snack, go outside and enjoy!
Touch: Think about all the textures you can add to your Sensory Garden. Smooth stones, plush moss, rough bark, and fuzzy leaves such as lambs ear are all possibilities. Think of the texture of ground surfaces such as rocky gravel, smooth wood, and narrow paths.
Balance & Movement Awareness (Vestibular): can be defined as a contributor to our balance system and our sense of spatial orientation. Add a simple swing or hammock as they provide the most vestibular input.
Body Awareness (Proprioception): refers to the body’s ability to perceive its own position in space. Add plants that require a bit of “oomph” to pick or harvest, like radishes, potatoes, carrots. Have children dig! Moving soil provides heavy input to the upper and lower extremities. Add wheelbarrows and invite children to push them with varying weights of dirt.
What is your favorite sense in your Sensory Garden? Come join the conversation with our Outdoor Classrooms community Facebook group.
Want to learn more? Check out landscape architect Jena Jauchius’ interview within the Outdoor Classrooms Summit. It’s amazing!