Sensory Gardens for Children With Special Needs

Creating a Sensory Garden For Kids
From the Educator’s Spin on it:

I am a Teacher’s Assistant in a Life Skills 2 classroom. The majority of our students are on the Autism Spectrum and are non-verbal. There are many challenges working with our students. I try to make these challenges less stressful by creating positive learning experiences.

I have chosen to use indoor container gardening for our sensory garden due to the fact that several of our students are flight risks. Container gardens also make it easier to garden throughout the school year and our students can more easily see the growing process. Several of our students have limited mobility or lack hand strength. Container gardening requires little digging; therefore, students can feel successful.

The plants and containers in a sensory garden must be carefully planned in such a way that they provide positive sensory stimulation. We must consider scent, so the student is aware of the plant without touching or even seeing it; sound, the sound of leaves rustling as they are being touched; visual, they may be bright and colorful or a rich green hue; and touch, they can be smooth leaved plants, fuzzy, feathery or a thick succulent. We must keep in mind that many kids on the spectrum are hyper-sensitive. We don’t want to create a negative experience by over stimulating. Other considerations to keep in mind are choosing safe plants, as there is a real possibility that they may be ingested. How successfully can the plants chosen be grown in containers? Plants that do not do well in artificial lighting or in containers should not be considered.

Safe Plant Choices

  • Lavandula angustifolia (Lavender)
  • Helianthus Annnus (Sunflower)
  • Stachys byzantine (Lamb’s Ear)
  • Calendula Officinalis (Marigold)
  • Antirrhinum (Snapdragon)
  • Asteracea dahlia (Dahlia)
  • Brassica oleracea (Flowering Kale)

    Blog photo 2
    Photo from Creative Commons
  • Sempervivum tectorum (Hens and Chicks)
  • Antheum graveolens (Dill)
  • Allium Schoenoprasum (Chive)
  • Gerbera jamesonii (Gerber Daisy)

I would also like to utilize the help of Life Skills 1 and General Ed students. The socialization is a very important aspect of this gardening project. This allows the students to come up with solutions together rather than relying solely on teacher directives. Each student, along with their student partner, will fill their container with potting soil and plant their seeds, bulbs or transplants. Some students will use just their hands experiencing the textures of fresh soil. Other students may require special modified tools. I encourage kids to get messy! Working together will encourage communication and cooperation. Reading the instructions on the seed packets is also a great exercise for the Life Skills 1 students. They will water their plants and place them under the fluorescent lights. We will check them daily to see if any sprouting/growing is taking place. During this time, I will also sprout a bean seed or two in a clear container so they can see the sprouting process in action.

A sensory garden is a great way to engage students of all abilities in the gardening process. Container gardening allows all the students to be able to participate in a safe and controlled environment. Gardening enables students to participate in the organic world and helps them better understand the life cycles of the plants around them.

About kkneill
I live in Palmer, AK in the foothills of Lazy Mt. I am currently a student in the Master Gardener class through UAF. I have been gardening by trial and error for most of my adult life. Plop a seed in some dirt and cross my fingers has worked pretty well so far but not as efficient as I would like it to be. I am looking forward to learning so much more!

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