At Hand Made Places, we’ve previously sung the praises of both sensory playgrounds and the benefits of gardening for students. That’s why we’ve combined these topics and created a free guide to designing sensory gardens for school playgrounds. So if you’re looking for unusual and inclusive school gardening club ideas, read on!
What is a Sensory Garden?
Sensory gardens are carefully designed areas which are devoted to engaging the senses. This may involve interactive elements – for example, inviting visitors to engage with various sensory panels, or trigger the sounds themselves. Conversely, some gardens provide sensory experiences on a constant basis, ‘washing over’ the visitor as they walk around or sit.
The purpose of a sensory garden is to trigger various neurological experiences, some of which are new, some familiar and often in exciting combinations. These sensory experiences can be highly impactful – visitors become more receptive to the world around them in a positive manner. This allows children and adults to improve elements of their cognitive function, whilst remaining in a safe, relaxing environment.
Sensory Garden Design Ideas for Schools
All SEN practitioners use sensory experiences as a tool when teaching. Hence, a school sensory garden is a great idea for encouraging child development through ‘hands-on’ activities. But where to start?
Here are some ideas of things to include in a school sensory garden:
- Tracing boards
Finally, don’t forget about the feeling you want to create for those moving around the sensory garden space. You can choose from various playground surfacing options, for example:
- Bark/Wood chip
- Outdoor play carpet
Things to consider!
You can make sure your sensory garden is inclusive by positioning its elements at an accessible height for wheelchair users. Raised beds are easier to use and also stop plants getting trampled.
You may wish to provide elements of light and shade to further enhance the variety of sensory experiences. This will also provide the option of shelter from the rain, which in turn may create a wonderful auditory experience. To do this you could create a willow feature or install a shade sail canopy.
How to Create a Sensory Garden in a Smaller Space
If your school is looking to fill a designated area, or if you’re a parent ready to dedicate somewhere to kids’ gardening activities, you may just want to create a small sensory garden. If this is the case, you should combine and prioritise a few specific elements.
Here are our space-saving ideas for sensory gardens:
- Choose wooden planters so you can engrave them, providing visual and tactile experiences. Timber creates a contrasting sensory experience to the plants, and also suits the installation of educational panels and pillars.
- Position outdoor mirrors in the centre of raised beds to enhance the visual effect without taking up too much space.
- Install a rainwater collection system for auditory experiences and conservation. For example, guttering attached to a canopy or shelter will provide great sound effects for the garden and help when it comes to watering plants. You can also funnel this into a water tray for sensory play.
- Choose between a free-standing or wall-mounted interactive element, depending on the layout of your sensory garden. For example, chimes in a wooden frame are handy as they’re accessible from either side. On the other hand, wall-mounted freechimes make use of existing space.
Plants for Children’s Sensory Gardens
Herbs and vegetables are always a good choice for school gardening activities as they engage with all the senses. Furthermore, it’s a good idea to opt for a variety of colours, particularly as these will be the flowers which are most attractive to pollinators.
We’ve listed some of our favourite vibrant, fragrant and/or edible plants for sensory gardens. These are all quite profuse plants which are easy to grow outdoors. Choose as many as you can find space for and don’t worry about weeds; it’s all about providing a varied experience with opportunities for children to explore and discover throughout the seasons! To help you plan and design your sensory garden beds, we’ve listed them in (approximate) order of height.
Short to medium plants
- Alpine strawberries
- Spring bulbs e.g. narcissus, crocus
Medium to tall plants
- Catmint nepeta
- Purple moor-grass
- Ornamental alliums
- Rosemary shrub
- Sweet peas
- Fuchsia shrub
- Viburnum shrub
Ready to Take the Next Step?
You can find all sorts of free gardening and outdoor activity resources for schools in our downloads section, and on the Hand Made Places Pinterest board.
For help creating a sensory garden for your school, community centre or children’s gardening club, get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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