Written by Anna Osorio
As a result of utilizing the sensory garden as an extended classroom, children were able to participate in a wide range of sensory experiences from education to relaxation.
It has always delighted me how children have this amazing sense of “awe” and are able to see and enjoy every minute of their journey in the discovery of the world. Children learn about the world they live in through their 5 senses. They notice the intricate colors and patterns of a butterfly’s wings as it basks under the sun’s heat. They taste the various flavors of an ice cream cone with every bite they take. They smell the fragrance of a flower as it wafts through the air. They immediately differentiate between rough and smooth by touching the underside of a sunflower. Hearing the sound of a bird can stop them in their tracks and immediately make them lose their concentration, generating thousands of questions in them.
The Sensory Garden was designed to create a “hands on” environment that provides multiple experiences for seeing, smelling, hearing, touching and tasting. The sensory garden also allows teachers to motivate children in understanding the concepts of science, math, reading, writing and eco-awareness. Values such as responsibility, collaboration, inquiry and creativity among many others are incorporated into the lessons. All of that can be taught through the interaction of the children with the gardening materials and the process of planting, watering and observing them. As a result of utilizing the sensory garden as an extended classroom, children were able to participate in a wide range of sensory experiences from education to relaxation.
The Sensory Garden was divided into 3 areas:
1. Sight: While everything in a garden provides an opportunity to use our sense of sight, a butterfly garden creates an environment to observe not only flowers but insect life as well. We created a butterfly garden selecting plants that caterpillars like (host plants) such as milkweed and sunflowers, which provide a food source for the emerging caterpillars and plants that adult butterflies like (nectar plants) such as pentas, verbena, marigolds, lavender, and sweet almond bush which provide food to give them the energy they need to fly. We also located them in an area that during the day presents changes in light and shadow and were accessible to butterflies. Finally we accentuated this area with decorative garden stakes, garden flags, and butterfly nets. A bird feeder was hung in a nearby tree to attract a wide variety of birds for bird watching. Complementing the bird feeder is a bird bath where birds cool off in the heat of the sun.
2. Taste: We created an Edible Garden in one section of the patio. This area allows children to enjoy the whole experience of flavor and taste. Three containers were planted with different themes. The Pizza Garden includes tomatoes, basil, parsley, thyme, cilantro and oregano. Once the vegetables are grown children will enjoy making pizza sauce for their pizza. In another container a Salsa Garden hosts Jalapeno tomatoes, cilantro, chives, large leaf Italian basil and onions. The children are looking forward to devouring vegetables and salsa as an afternoon snack once the salsa garden matures. Ole Ole! A third container is home to our Summer Salad. We planted tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, radishes and curly Italian parsley. In addition to the containers, an herb garden with rosemary, sage and thyme were planted in a planter box. The purpose of the Edible Garden was for children to perceive the taste of various ingredients and observe the change from a plant to a food. It is also a great way to learn the role of nutrition in vegetables and other foods.
3. Touch: The sense of touch was present across the garden and the planting process. However to allow children to experience the exquisite sensitivity of their fingertips, a texture garden was created in containers using a variety of safe plants with bold textures. Smooth pebbles and rough river rocks were used for drainage. Lambs Ears were planted for their silky softness in a container with silver sage which feels fuzzy and a bit like cotton wool. Bromeliads which have rigid leaves and spiky soft flowers and come in a variety of colors were planted in another container. The frilly texture of Turkish White Verbena and prickly Mimosa Pudica, also known as the “sensitive plant”, were made available to explore in the last container. A picnic table was set up with a grass top (we used 4 blocks of turf grown sod) to simulate a grass experience since our garden is located in a patio with no grass. The children enjoy “mowing” the grass, running their fingers through each individual blade and pretending to picnic on a grassy knoll.
The Senses of Sound and Smell are all around the garden. Smell is a deeply emotional sense, with one whiff we are transported to another place or time. The lavender in the butterfly garden calms us, the rosemary conjures up images of delectable foods soon to be shared, and the almond bush smells like a fresh baked cookie just waiting to be baked. Wet grass after a rain smells fresh and crisp. Sounds can help us slow down and pay attention to the world around us. By opening their ears to nature, the children can observe bees buzzing, leaves fluttering, birds singing, wind chimes chiming. Bamboo creates a whistling sound, we used it to make wind chimes. The bird feeder attracts a variety of birds allowing the children to hear their songs. The birdbath encourages birds to linger and take a dip cooling them off. As they splash around in the bath, their wings create a splish splash sound.
Multiple opportunities for learning are present in the Sensory Garden like observing, experimenting, thinking, reading, writing, classifying and simply as a place to enjoy and be in touch with nature. The children loved working in the garden and continue to enjoy the new arrivals such as the caterpillars that recently went into the cocoon stage and will soon emerge as painted lady butterflies.
Every time they visit the sensory garden they find a new “awe” that lights their day and their minds encouraging them to continue to explore, question, observe and learn.
Being responsible for planting, watering and caring for the plants has given them accountability, bolstered self esteem and provided an opportunity to interact and learn about nature. The teachers are excited to have an additional "outdoor classroom" where they can extend their teaching opportunities. For instance, one of the teachers has used the garden to do the "Wheel of Wonder" a step by step scientific process with her students. The children discovered, in their words, “that the roots were like straws, the water travels from the roots up the stems into the leaves and flowers.” The teachers of the 2 year olds take them to the garden to water the plants and for observing, on a recent visit, one of the children discovered that he really liked the taste of basil and cilantro! A teacher of the 5 year olds said "she loves watching the kids make connections between plants and air, understanding that without plants we would not be able to breathe."
Like these thousand of connections, thoughts and conclusions have been driven by the children and we know that every time they visit the sensory garden they find a new “awe” that lights their day and their minds encouraging them to continue to explore, question, observe and learn.