How to create a sensory garden in your school
The term sensory garden is now commonplace in schools, but what does it really mean? Sensory processing needs are different for each child. It can be difficult to tailor a sensory garden that will meet the needs of all. We explore the senses to consider (including the extra senses), walk you through the design steps and share some sensory garden ideas for you to try on your playground.
What is a sensory garden?
A sensory garden is an area that has been designed with specific sensory experiences in mind. It can be enjoyed by all children in the school, specifically pupils who might have hyper or hypo sensitivity to specific senses.
Sensory gardens are now common installations in schools, offering children a space where they can safely explore their senses. A sensory garden may not include the items you are expecting; read on to learn more.
Are there only 5 senses?
We’re glad you asked! The short answer is no, but there are 5 senses that are well-known: touch, taste, sight, sound and smell.
Humans actually have more than 5 sensory systems, including the vestibular, proprioceptive and interoceptive sensory systems. There are lots of different activities schools can offer children who are hyper and hypo sensitive to one (or more) sensory systems.
How do you make a sensory garden: school edition.
To create a sensory garden correctly, there are a number of steps you should follow. We share 7 steps to help you with your design process.
Step 1: Plan your sensory garden layout.
You may be working with a small outdoor space or have an unused space to play with. Regardless of how much space you have for your sensory garden, it must begin with a plan. You should have an idea of what a good sensory garden is and what layout will work for your school.
Step 2: Decide on your sensory garden theme.
You know your school children best. You may have lots of children that have a particular interest and would like to base the garden around that. For example, in an EYFS setting, you may like the idea of a pixie and fairy-themed sensory garden with hidden doors and houses around the area. Your sensory garden may encompass a broader coverage of sensory systems- having a little something for everyone.
Step 3: Use sensory play equipment.
Sensory play equipment can be great for children who actively seek sensory feedback. If a child is sensitive to touch (hyper or hypo), the feeling of hard, wooden slats to lie across can give a huge amount of sensory feedback. There is a huge range of SEND outdoor play equipment your school can research for your sensory garden, it can be useful to speak to outdoor play equipment experts to hear what will fit your space, budget and pupils’ needs.
Step 4: Think about SEND accessibility.
Physical accessibility is important for an inclusive playground. But there are lots of different ways you can make your playground inclusive for other Types of SEND needs. Think about the placement and location of your school’s sensory garden; placing it directly next to the loud netball or football pitch might not encourage peaceful, calm relaxation.
Wide pathways, different pieces of equipment or shaded areas can all help make your sensory garden more accessible.
Step 5: Plants and flowers for a sensory garden.
There are lots of different plants, flowers and herbs that can be planted in your sensory garden. Even better, you may be able to engage the children in choosing and planting themselves. Here is a short list of vegetable ideas to plant in your sensory garden.
Sensory garden ideas for schools.
Visual sensory garden ideas.
- Use different shaped playground equipment.
- Include bright colours (be aware of colour combinations that can prove challenging for children with visual impairment).
- Weave in footpaths to break up large spaces.
- Choose different heights of equipment and plants.
- Hang shiny light catchers.
Auditory sensory garden ideas.
- Place wind chimes in the garden.
- Decide on a mixture of plants that rustle in the wind (bamboo).
- Incorporate music makers.
Olfactory (smell) sensory garden ideas.
- Choose plants that produce a nice smell, like honeysuckle, jasmine and mint.
- Place hanging baskets with sweet-smelling flowers near seating areas.
- Plant a section of camomile grass.
Tactile sensory garden ideas.
- Plant a selection of grass (Astro Turf is a good alternative, too) for running hands over.
- Include a selection of surfaces (bark is a great spongey surface).
- Consider different hard surfaces for sensory feedback (like wooden benches, train sets and hill mounds).
- Research soft plants like Lamb’s Ear for children to touch different textures.
Sensory garden ideas (taste).
- Edible herbs and plants (you can find a list here).
Vestibular (balance) sensory garden ideas.
- Include a mixture of high and low balance equipment (like trim trails).
- Choose equipment that allows for control of movement; swings that are moved by the child pressing their own feet into the floor can give children confidence.
- Try to include moving equipment like tightropes and swinging planks.
Proprioception (movement) sensory garden ideas.
- Choosing equipment with different heights (including small climbing walls, rope ladders and steps) helps a child to alter the amount of pressure needed in their feet.
- Recognising the pulling, pushing, and lifting movements helps to regulate the proprioceptive sensory system; find equipment that allows this.
Interoceptive (internal signals) sensory garden ideas.
- Help children to recognise the internal signals for feeling tired and out of breath with activities they can complete quickly or slowly.
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