Mother Nature’s Sensory Classroom
Gardening naturally stimulates our senses: the smell of wet soil, the sound of a cooing dove in the distance, the feeling of warm sun kisses on our skin, and early morning dew drops so fresh we can almost taste it! Children, however, may need a little more encouragement to engage with nature in this way. Luckily, Life is a Garden is bringing you some inspiration this August to create an indulging sensory experience for your kids, filled with adventure and exploration. We’re talking all about stimulating your child’s senses through a natural playscape environment in your own backyard or school playground.
Sight: A great attention grabber is through striking visual stimuli. A garden that looks visibly interesting with a variety of colours, textures, and a few intriguing items should get their curiosity going. Create an obstacle course by incorporating different sized tree stumps or rocks as stepping stones over some dangerous lava looking succulents and spikey grass. An outdoor dollhouse or treasure chest under a tree may further inspire imaginative play.
Plant picks: Rooiblaarplakkie (Kalanchoe sexangularis) is a hardy succulent, perfect as a lava substitute. Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are big, bold, and beautiful cut-flowers. Starlight grass (Anthericum) brings in strong texture and contrast for the rugged garden warrior.
Sound: Incorporating both natural and man-made sound stimulation is easier than you may think. A DIY hand shaker project with some dried seeds or stones inside empty spice bottles may motivate the kinesthetically inclined child to engage their sense of sound. Wind chimes will become an ambient focal point during the August winds too. A water feature may help to encourage more gentle playtime and promote an awareness of subtle and calming sounds. Alternatively, you could even start a buzzing bee hotel for the gogo-loving garden explorer!
Smell: Encouraging kids to literally stop and smell the roses is so important in cultivating an ethos of appreciation and conservation in the new generation. Thankfully, engaging their sense of smell is rather easy to achieve with such an aromatic variety of plants available. Creating a DIY potpourri experimentation station is a hands-on strategy to develop their noses while opening up a space for real connection and engagement with organic floral scents.
Plant picks: Angel's Trumpet (Brugmansia) for kids who like to get right under and in there. Plumerias (Frangipani, Pua Melia) are as pretty as their perfume. Picking petals from Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) is fantastic for fine motor skills. Rosemary, Lavender, and Mint are tried favourites too.
Taste: Grouping edible flowers, berries, and herbs together in a large container allow kids safe and easy access to taste and explore some home-grown goodness. Creating a little chef station nearby will not only engage and develop taste buds, but can also be used as an opportunity to instil responsibility and purpose. Get the kids to pick herbs for dinner, give them the chore of watering the edible garden, or simply allow them free reign to cook up some tasty herb, berry, and mud cakes for the fairies and gnomes.
Plant picks: Basil is a taste explosion and good for stimulating little pallets. Gooseberries (Ribes uva-crispa) are fun to pick and loaded with nutrients. Wild Malva (Pelargonium culallatum) is a colourful treat because who wouldn’t want to eat a flower! And of course, there are strawberries, which have come to please even the fussiest of eaters.
Touch: Let’s reward curiosity by welcoming your child’s obsession to touch everything! A row of varying sized and angled PVC pipes against a wall provides endless opportunities for car races and hours of poking and prodding through the openings with pretty much whatever they can get their hands on – and that’s exactly what we want! Expose them to even more textures with a little squirting water feature and a variety of spikey, smooth, fury, and rough foliage.
Plant picks: Most aloes are nice and spikey with enough hardiness to withstand a little educational probing. Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) is a lovely choice for something fury. Try bringing in some Asparagus Fern (Asparagus plumosus) for a fine-feeling climber between your pipe-play wall.
Independent play and opportunities for exploration-based discoveries are an important part of childhood. Can you imagine what this sort of sensory playscape environment, filled with cool stuff, would have meant for you as a child? From edible gardens to wind chimes and treacherous lava floors, there is something to appeal to every child’s interest and all their senses. No one knows your child like you do, so put those creative green fingers to work and remember - if you build it, they will come!