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Creating a Sensory Garden: A Unique Approach to Learning Differences

Gardening… It’s a popular hobby with a beautiful result – but did you know it also comes with significant sensory benefits for all ages?

Children, teens and even adults with Sensory Processing Disorder can gain sensory input in a multitude of ways in a garden created with their challenges in mind. Everything from the stimulating aromas and textures to the equipment within the garden can be extremely beneficial to those with sensory challenges.

Benefits of gardening include improved motor skills, enhanced creativity, increased social skills and improved self-confidence. Gardening also reduces stress and helps children cope with anxiety and frustration.

Even simply digging and turning the dirt is amazing for the proprioceptive sensory system – the awareness of your body in space. Adding a swing to the garden stimulates the vestibular system, which controls balance and movement.

Veggie Garden

Take a look at many other ways this type of garden can stimulate the senses:

Sound – To stimulate hearing, choose plant flora that make noise when the wind passes through them, such as bamboo stems. Many seedpods make interesting sounds, as well, and the end-of-season leaves provide a fun, crunching sound under feet. You might also include plants that encourage wildlife in the garden.

Touch – There is no shortage of plants that offer interesting textures, perfect for encouraging the sense of touch. From the baby-soft feel of a something like a lamb’s ear to the irresistible sensation of plants like cool moss or the brush of rough seedpods, it is possible to incorporate many different textures into the garden.

Smell – The sense of smell is extremely memorable, and aromas easily find their place in our memory banks. Most sensory gardens are full of mingling aromas that entice a wide range of emotions. Highly aromatic plants, such as the sweet-smelling gardenia, honeysuckle, herbs, and spices, provide many opportunities for stimulation.

Sight – Adding visual interest to a sensory garden is achieved by using plants with varying habits such as those that creep, climb, trail, bush, or stand upright. Incorporating plants with different bloom, leaf, bark, and stem colors provide visual appeal as well.

Taste – Edible fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices planted in a sensory garden allow visitors an opportunity to experience nature’s bounty while enticing their taste buds.

For other types of sensory input and therapy, include equipment such as a balance beam, chin-up bar, push-up station, balance board seat, and a rock-climbing wall.

Child on Balance Beam

Research shows that many developmental and primary tasks for children and teens can be effectively achieved through outdoor play, including exploring, risk-taking, and fine and gross motor development. A Sensory Garden is a place where children will not even realize they are receiving such vital therapy. They can simultaneously play, stimulate their senses, and feel a sense of accomplishment, all extremely important for any child or teen – and especially so for those with special needs.