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Sensory Garden: Why Gardening Helps Emotional Grounding and Sensory Integration
This article provides helpful information on how a sensory garden can help a child’s sensory seeking behavior. Affiliate links are included for your convenience.Integrated Learning Strategies (ILS) is a learning and academic center. As a reminder, ILS is not a health care provider and none of our materials or services provide a diagnosis or treatment of a specific condition or learning challenge you may see in your child or student. If you seek a diagnosis or treatment for your child or student, please contact a trained professional who can provide an evaluation of the child.
When I was growing up, my mother planted and cultivated a vegetable garden. Some of my favorite memories include helping her plant seeds, add the water, and pat down the dirt. I never enjoyed weeding, but I always enjoyed eating the green beans and the sweet peas straight from the vine. I never enjoyed them much once they were in the house or on a plate, but fresh from the garden was always fun and tasty.
My mother calls gardening “dirt therapy.” For many people, it really can be therapeutic. It gets us back to our roots, so to speak, as we work to cultivate the soil and become more independent, self-sufficient, and harvest the fruits of our labors.
Benefits of Building a Sensory Garden
Kids learn a lot from gardening, too. In the beginning, creating a sensory garden is an opportunity to experience different textures: soil, rocks, water, mud, snails, worms, seeds, new sprouts, leaves, roots, and even weeds. It also teaches patience and persistence. A plant does not grow overnight. It needs time, care, water, sunlight, and to be weed-free. Much growth happens under the surface and suddenly emerges over the soil. It then seems to grow much more quickly. Our children are the same way. Their brains, thoughts, and senses start developing in the womb and then after birth long before they completely manifest themselves.
Once our children start walking, running, and talking, their growth seems to speed up to crazy proportions. We look at our teenagers and say, “weren’t you just 2 years old yesterday wanting to hold my hand and play in the rain?” That is what gardening does to help our children understand time, patience, and persistence. In addition, the sensory benefits for sensory seeking children are great for calming the body. Sensory gardens provide heavy work for proprioception, it helps with visual planning, improves their tactile and motor skills, and it can enhance emotional grounding.
What Kids can Learn from a Sensory Garden
Creating a sensory garden with your child not only improves their sensory integration, it also gives them great learning opportunities. Here are several different areas where your child can learn and develop academically with a sensory garden.
- Math skills as they measure their sprouts
- Math skills as they decide how far apart to put the plants – how many plants can we put in this row if they need to be four inches apart?
My oldest son with sensory integration processing challenges could not stand the feel of dirt or mud from infancy until he could talk himself into the experience around 6 or 7 years old, which is usually a sign of a child who has too much sensory input and doesn’t like certain textures. My second son with sensory integration processing challenges enjoys the feel of mud to this day – he is 10½ years old, which means he doesn’t have enough sensory input and needs the feel of the dirt and mud to get the sensory input he needs. He intentionally makes a mess in order to experience it. If you have a child that needs a lot of sensory input, gardening is perfect!
Gardening can help:
- Stimulate senses: smell, touch, taste, seeing, and hearing
- Proprioception with heavy work (pushing wheelbarrows, using shovels, rakes, etc.)
- Calm anxiety, fidgeting, and attention
- Improve child development
- Develop gross and fine motor skills
- Encourage exploration
- Plants use water and sunlight to make food
- Plants use the air we breathe out (carbon dioxide) as their air
- Plants give off the air we breathe in (oxygen)
- Plants and animals both have to live and grow to help each other
- Different plants help each other grow better
- Worms help plants grow by digging in the dirt (aeration helps soil breathe and become healthy)
- Different animals use plants in different ways
- Environmental Care
- Litter kills plants
- Clean water helps plants grow
- Strong, healthy soil makes strong, healthy plants
- Crop rotation helps soil remain healthy
- Homemade compost can help plants get nutrients they need
- Different bugs have jobs to help plants break down and feed the soil
- Strong, healthy soil makes strong, healthy plants
What ingredients go into what foods
- Pizza uses oregano, parsley, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, basil – you can make a pizza garden
- Salsa uses onions, bell peppers, jalapeño peppers, tomatoes – make a salsa garden for a chips and salsa party
- Where to walk not to stomp on the plants
- How much water to use and when
- It’s not OK to throw dirt clods at your siblings, the cat, or the dog
- Mud has its place
- on fingers and feet when you’re planting at the beginning
- on finger and feet when you’re turning the soil after the garden has been harvested
- outside — all the time
- in a mud hole made for mud play away from the garden
“Though success is relative in the world of gardening, positive experiences do help sustain interest for kids. One child learns that worms are not just slimy and gross; they are garden friends. Another masters the art of measuring his growing corn stalk. A third extends garden learning at the computer. A fourth pulls a carrot from the earth, brushes it off, and eats it. All have had successful experiences. You can guide a child to have his or her own successful gardening experience, but you must explore yourself. You and they must learn from your mistakes. Celebrate wonder. The key to success and sustained interest lies within you and the little gardener(s) with whom you plant the seeds of hope—which is, of course, what a seed is and what a garden is—a promise of what will come.” — Marti Ross Bjornson
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning challenges achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs