Picnic in the Garden: Sensory Play and Sensory Foods for the Outdoors
Gardening requires small steps and experimentation, which is perfect for sensory play. The first thing I do with my son each morning after we’ve had a few planting sessions in the garden is to go “see what’s new.” He’s just as excited as I am to see what he is creating.
1. The Attire – Gloves and hats and aprons are perfect ways to introduce the garden because they mute sensations that might otherwise be overpowering. The gloves protect the hands from dirt and bugs. The hat shades the eyes and the apron keep the clothes clean. Plus, it’s like a costume and what kid doesn’t love a costume?
2. Weeding – If your child is as impatient as mine, sometimes pulling weeds is the best therapy. It’s rhythmic, it doesn’t have to be perfect and it immediately shows progress. It can also foster independence if you square off a section just for your child. This is their plot of land to care for as their own.
3. Planting – Did you know that you can plant flowers without touching the ground? Most home improvement stores carry wildflower seed packets that you simply throw over the weeded earth and then water. These are also the hardiest flowers so they won’t require a lot of attention. Plus, it’s fun to see what comes up. For additional sensory stimulus, pick the flowers which attract butterflies and hummingbirds (it will say it on the package), so that you can watch what comes to visit. Let your child sprinkle the seeds over their little plot and help water.
4. Garden Sounds – Outdoor noises are not always soothing. But you can find ways to make your garden a little oasis. Let your child pick out a wind chime, making sure it’s one they really like and isn’t too loud or jarring. Or buy a little fountain. There’s a reason they put them in banks and dentist’s offices. They help you relax despite yourself.
5 . Urban Garden – Even if you don’t have a plot of land, you can garden. In fact, if the outdoors is just too much for your child, gardening offers the perfect chance to bring the outside in. Buy some pots and planting soil and pick some herbs that you know your child likes. Mild ones with soothing smells like lavender or ones that might be used in cooking like thyme or oregano work well. Let them help you plant the seeds and pick a spot in the sunlight. Assign them the important task of remembering to water. If you have a deck, strawberries and tomatoes do well in pots and take up little space.
6. Picnic in the Garden Party – The best way I know to get my son excited about anything is to make a day of it. The more I talk it up, the more he wants to play. So create the perfect Picnic in the Garden Party. Read Eric Carle’s classic The Hungry Caterpillar. There’s even an entire gardening set themed around the book, including spade, watering can and my kids’ favorite, a caterpillar-shaped lantern. Pack the picnic basket and spread a blanket or bring out some camping chairs. Eat a strawberry off that kabob and point to the strawberry plants your child helped start. Find some real ants marching while you eat your banana version. Dig in to that dirt pudding and then cheer them on as the dig in the real dirt with a spade or hand or toe. Everything is an experience. End it all with a few decorations for the garden. Everybody likes a gnome or a pinwheel or colored pebbles along with their wind chimes. Whatever you do, it will be a memory in the making and it will provide a world of sensory experiences to explore.
Jamie Sumner is a writer and author of the website, The Mom Gene (mom -gene.com ) and the mother to a son with cerebral palsy and twins.
Subscribe to our free email newsletter now to access our free magazine!