What is a Sensory Garden?
A sensory garden is a garden space that is focused on engaging the senses...whether it be just one or two particular senses, or all five senses of taste, sight, touch, smell, and sound. In a sensory garden, interacting with the environment is encouraged and celebrated. This can include everything from helping to dig and plant seeds to picking and eating fruits and vegetables!
Sensory gardens can be large or small, and they can be cultivated for an individual family or as part of a shared space such as a school or hospital. No matter what type of sensory garden you have access to, here are a few reasons you might want to consider spending some time in one (or create one) with your child.
Benefits of a Sensory Garden for Kids
All ages can benefit from time spent experiencing and helping to care for a sensory garden. These spaces can provide a therapeutic place for individuals with sensory processing disorders or disabilities and are even sometimes used to help engage and soothe individuals with Alzheimer's and dementia.
Aside from the benefits of being outside and in nature, which is numerous no matter what the setting, kids who are encouraged to spend time in a sensory garden will:
- Engage their senses and nature in a hands-on way.
- Interact with different environments and learn about ecosystems.
- Learn how to care for nature and cultivate patience as they wait for things to grow.
- Experience calming, yet thorough, stimulation through engaging all their senses.
- Practice skills such as hand-eye coordination, categorization, and more.
Creating a Sensory Garden
How should you create your own sensory garden experience? Any space large enough for a garden can be used as a sensory garden. You will just need to put a little thought into how you would like to include opportunities for each sense.
- Sight can be engaged with colorful flowers, contrasting colors in the paths or garden decorations, and even the bugs and butterflies that will be attracted to the garden.
- Engage your child’s sense of smell by planting fragrant plants such as roses and lavender, or by adding herbs such as basil and mint.
- Encourage your child to touch the earth and plants by providing them with appropriate tools and instructions on how to care for the garden. (The ExploraToy Garden Tool Set isis a great option for child-sized garden tools!)
- Listening for bugs, planting tall grasses that swish, and adding other features like a wind chime or waterfall to your garden are all ways to experience sound in a sensory garden space.
- Give your child a chance to taste things in the garden. Vegetables and fruits are an obvious choice, but you could also consider herbs or even edible flowers!
Other things to keep in mind when creating a sensory garden include:
- Creating the space with the audience in mind. Is your child easily overstimulated? Try keeping things calm and relaxing in the sensory garden. Does your child often seek out a lot of sensory input? Add lots of interesting textures, colors, and shapes of plants to the garden, and be prepared to let them touch and smell and taste everything!
- Letting the child be the gardener. Kids are often a lot more invested in things if they can feel a sense of ownership over them! Involve them in as many of the steps as possible, from planning to planting to harvesting veggies! The ExploraToy Garden Tool Set is the perfect tool set for budding gardeners and can be purchased on its own or as part of the Learning Bundle for Toddlers.
- Encouraging interaction with the space. It can be tempting to try to keep your garden space looking pristine, especially if you have put a lot of effort into making it nice! Remember that a sensory garden is a place to be explored and experienced, not just viewed. Kids should be encouraged to take care of the garden, but also to interact with it and enjoy it to the fullest.
Sensory gardens can be fun, therapeutic, relaxing, or stimulating. They can be small and created with a specific couple of senses as their focus, or they can be large and all-encompassing! Kids of all abilities will benefit from time spent in a sensory garden, and kids with sensory processing disorders should be considered when creating one in a shared space.
Help kids get involved in the process of planning and creating the sensory garden by giving them the appropriate tools and talking to them about their senses and how they might like to engage them. You will also be able to reap the benefits of a sensory garden, as you watch your child explore their world in new ways, make connections, and maybe - if you’re lucky - even try a new vegetable or two!