Gardening is a wonderful way for your children to learn about their surroundings and develop their skills. You can give kids a place to explore by including a sensory corner in your garden. Here, Rebecca McCalla, Director at the outdoor experts Little Adventure Shop, shows you how to build a sensory space outdoors for your little ones.
Gardening may not be an obvious choice when you think about educating your children, as you might be more likely to think of books and museums. But time outside can contribute hugely to your little one's development.
Research carried out by Michigan University found that doing small gardening tasks can help your child practice locomotor skills, body management, and object management. These are important hand-eye coordination skills, and gardening gives small children the chance to improve them in a fun, engaging setting.
Creating a sensory space in your garden can help kids explore these skills by providing them with a dedicated area in which they can interact with their surroundings. By having a corner for edible plants, textured leaves, exciting scents, and wildlife, you can give your child the chance to reap all the benefits of the outdoors.
Add edible plants
Edible plants can provide an exciting sensory experience for kids, as this is a time in their lives when they are exploring different tastes. They can even play games pretending that the space is a kitchen, and they are putting flavours together!
Some great edible choices are herbs like curry plants, lemon balm, sage, and different types of mint. These are all easy to grow, and resilient, so they won't be deterred by a curious child pulling off some leaves. They are also safe and tasty when eaten straight away, so your kids can quite happily try it raw.
As a bonus, herbs are also great when you're cooking, and can be incorporated into many dishes. So, your child can explore these ingredients in the garden, and then you can pick some of the plants together and use them in a meal. This creates another level of excitement for your child, and allows them to learn about where different foods and flavours come from.
Find a water feature
Water features are a great way to introduce some interesting sounds into your space, as well as another texture for your child to explore. As a bonus, they are also one of the most important features for attracting wildlife into your garden, and the birds will love the water too.
There are lots of easy ways to bring water into a garden space. Try a low pressure sprinkler, a small fountain, or even just a bird bath. You can also make a small pond by sinking a plastic container into the ground and adding water and plants.
Water provides a whole other aspect of the garden that your child can explore, and is a great addition to a sensory space. To make sure that your children don't bring all that water inside, make sure to dress them in a good quality pair of wellies.
Find some scented plants
Scented plants can provide a wonderful opportunity for your child to explore with their sense of smell. By filling your sensory area with exciting scents, you can give them a chance to experience the garden on another level, and discover what smells they like best.
While herbs generally have scents, you can also add plants that smell stronger, or are usually planted for their perfume. A few of the herbs you might consider planting will also fulfil this role however, such as lavender, which is often planted for its beautiful summer scent. Some great ideas are honeysuckle, wild garlic, sweet peas and jasmine. These can fill your sensory area with lots of different scents, and have the bonus of looking beautiful in your garden too.
Plant textured foliage
As well as edible plants, consider the texture of the foliage that you're introducing into your sensory area. You might not spend much time thinking about the texture of the plants in your garden, but it can be an excellent way of creating sensory variety for your child.
Lamb's ears plants have soft leaves that really do feel like the little ears of a lamb, while fennel and pampas grass are also pleasant to touch. Sage is another great plant to go for, and there are two varieties that are particularly good for encouraging little gardeners to practice their sense of touch. Jerusalem sage has soft, downy leaves and stems, and silver sage has leaves that feel like they are covered in cotton wool.
Welcome in wildlife
One of the great things about kids spending time outside, is that they can learn about wildlife, and even spot their favourite birds, animals and insects. So, encourage wildlife to spend time in your garden and provide food, water and shelter to any visitors you might get coming into your sensory space.
An easy way to start encouraging wildlife is to have a bird feeder. You can hang on in a tree or large shrub, or find one that attaches to a wall, or is freestanding. Filled with seed and kept topped up throughout winter, these can be a magnet for garden birds.
Then, include water — bird baths and ponds are best, and quite easy to install. A bird bath can simply be an old saucer filled with clean water, and a pond can be made out of an old plastic box or bucket sunk into the ground or surrounded with water-loving plants.
You can even get your child involved in adding wildlife-friendly features to the garden, and teach them about what each element contributes. This allows them to learn about wildlife while they explore their surroundings.
Add some ornaments
When you've covered all the other sensory bases, it's fun to find ornaments and extra touches to introduce into the space. Wind chimes add tuneful sounds when a breeze passes by, and mirrors can add a new dimension to the views when hung in trees, shrubs and on fences.
There are also plenty of cute animal ornaments that can give your children something else to play with. You could have a rabbit ornament amongst the herbs, or a little cat statue in the corner. Decorations are all about livening up the garden even more, and adding a personal touch to your sensory outdoor corner.
Adding a sensory space in your garden can really encourage your child to play outside, explore different textures, tastes, smells and sounds, and learn about wildlife. There are so many benefits to having a corner like this in your garden, and with these tips in mind, building this area can be easy and fun. Once you've made your sensory corner, you can watch your little gardener build their skills and enjoy the great outdoors.