Activating All the Right Senses

by Diane Conboy, Speech Language Specialist

As adults we know that taking a break from a stressful activity can help us reset our minds and bodies, allowing us to perform better when we return to the task at hand. The same is true for our children at school. Students with anxiety, ADD/ADHD, Autism, or Sensory Processing Disorder can feel overwhelmed by ambient noise, fluorescent lighting, or by working in a large group. Taking a break from those sensory experiences may help students return to the classroom refreshed and ready to learn.

Tucked into a courtyard between the kindergarten and the library at the Laning Avenue School are raised planting beds brimming with flowers and vegetables. This “Sensory Garden” is a great place for our students to take a break and let their nervous systems re-calibrate. Soaking in the fresh air, natural lighting, and the sounds of nature can help a student alert or calm their senso­ry system, depending on his or her needs. Students can relax while filling watering cans from the rain barrel or they can do “heavy work” by spinning the compost tumbler.

Child-friendly signs also provide guidance for the adults who are accompanying the students. These signs peak curiosity with a variety of prompts; “Look Here for Caterpillars’: “Feel these Leaves”, or “Smell This, Is it Lavender? Citronella? Mint?” Along one wall is a series of benches that invite you to sit a moment and take it all in. A gate keeps out the deer and provides the students with a safe space to explore. A new, curved pathway is a handicap accessible invitation for all of the students to get up close to nature.

The garden also plays a supporting role in academic studies for students, pre-K to 4th grade. This past year Laning teachers have used the space for lessons on a wide-variety of topics including the life-cycle, weather, measurement, graphing, nutrition (one-ingredient snacks), poetry, art, and of course, it’s the perfect spot for Butterfly Release day!

Yes, having a sensory garden can reap benefits for the entire school. Teachers looking for a place to provide their students with a sensory break or a hands-on activity know just where to find it. If parents would like to visit the garden, an open house is being planned for this fall. Laning parents, keep your eye out for those invitations. Everyone who would like to see and hear more garden news is invited to follow us on Twitter @laninggarden.

We gratefully acknowledge contributions from:
Verona Education Association grant (VEA) Learning Through Gardening grant
(NJ Agricultural Society)
Verona Foundation for Educational Excellence grant (VFEE)
Funding from the Laning SCA Administrative and custodial support Laning Legacy Gift, Class of 2015,
garden path and many
teacher/parent volunteer hours

Mission Statement:
The garden will provide a safe place for
students to take sensory breaks so that they are better able to access the curriculum.
The garden will support hands-on experiences that enrich the school curriculum.

Click here to read more articles in the Verona Public Schools Magazine 2016-2017 Edition.