Gardening is certainly a hands-on experience and anytime we engage our children’s senses, we appeal to the variety of ways in which they learn and grow. I’m excited to share some fun ideas today on how to explore plants and flowers in your garden through the five senses. Read on to discover how we’re teaching toddlers and preschoolers about their senses by using all five senses in the garden.
Using All Five Senses in the Garden
EXTEND THE FUN AND LEARNING WITH OUR PRINTABLE FIVE SENSES OR GARDEN THEME LESSON PLANS.
Digging in the dirt, sitting in the grass, the cool water of a sprinkler, the variety of textures of a rock or a stick–gardening is a tactile smorgasbord! So often, however, when it comes to gardens and plants we tell our children “look with your eyes, don’t touch!” If you have the space to allow for it, I highly recommend allowing a plot for children to garden on their own–mistakes, learning experiences and all! If not, planting your own “Please Touch the Plants” Garden will be a great way to introduce a variety of textures to little fingers in your yard, in a container or even indoors.
What to Plant:
Most garden and home improvement centers carry a selection of succulents. Aloe, lambs ear, yucca, hens and chicks, desert rose, burro’s tail, and snake plant are all popular options. Avoid cacti with sharp thorns. Do opt for a variety of textures, heights and colors. From fuzzy to feathery, bumpy and smooth–this a wonderful way to explore textures and related vocabulary.
Petal Potions Water Table: Sensory play with real flower petals is so much fun! We love to give our fresh cut flowers one last hurrah before they head to the compost heap and this is one wonderful way to do that. Alternatively, you can pick some wildflowers from outside or hit up your local florist for rejects and flowers that can’t be sold.
You can keep it simple with water, flowers, a dish and a spoon or long stem for stirring. You can also add in color, glitter and even essential oil for scent.
What to Plant:
- With an eye toward the Fall, plant some mini gourds this summer to grow your own shakers in the fall! Once harvested and dried, the seeds inside a gourd create a natural and beautiful homegrown musical instrument.
- In the interim, plant flowers and plants that will attract songbirds to your garden. Marigolds, sunflowers, daisies and asters are just a few. Read about others in this article from National Geographic.
Take a Sound Scavenger Hunt Walk: Whether it’s through your own yard, your neighborhood, a park or garden center, taking a nature walk with an ear toward the sounds of the garden can be fascinating! Can you hear birds? Bugs like bees or cicadas? Can you hear frogs or toads? Ducks or geese? What about man-made noises like lawnmowers or hedge trimmers? We often go to the garden for some peace and quiet–and peaceful, it certainly is–but rarely is it truly quiet. When you open up your ears outdoors, you can truly discover the orchestra of your garden!
Make Your Own Wind Chimes: This is a great activity to empty your recycling bin with. You’ll need a variety of items (particularly tin/metal) like cans, bottles, lids, CDs, even old spoons and forks. Use an old hanger or an overturned colander and some twine. Adult assistance may be needed with some of the handiwork!
Build a Garden Sound Wall: If you have the space for it (and no neighbors super close by), building a sound wall with interesting recycled items, pots, pans, and tins is a great way to encourage budding musicians of all ages outside. If there is one thing I have learned from both my boys, it is that anything can be a drum! Grab a spoon, a stick or your hands and play away!
What to Plant: Plant or purchase a variety of aromatic herbs and flowers. I recommend some familiar varieties and a few unique ones as well.
Make Your Own Bath Salts: Many things in our garden are enjoyed as food or to beautify our homes, but you can make lovely gifts for bath and body as well. You will need epsom salts and an aromatic herb or flower (or collection thereof) that you like. I highly recommend lavender, mint or rose petals for this. Clip your herbs or flowers of choice. You may wish to dry them first. Scoop some epsom salts into a jar or ziploc bag and add your scented flowers and/or herbs. Give it a good shake and seal. This makes a relaxing addition to a bath or a lovely garden gift!
Scent Guessing Game: Choose a variety of familiar garden scents in the form of fresh or dried herbs, flowers or even fruits and vegetables. You can also use essential oils. I’d suggest including things like mint, lavender, rose, lemon, onion or garlic, even soil. Using some recycled jars or containers, put a bit of your scented item in each (you can use a cotton ball with essential oils) and offer players the option to be blindfolded or close their eyes so they can really hone in on their sense of smell. How many scents can you correctly identify?
What to Plant: Visual appeal is a huge part of gardening, and what could be more visually appealing than planting a rainbow? Read Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert and then head to your local garden center to choose your own rainbow of flowers, plants and maybe even vegetables.
Plant, Grow & Eat a Rainbow Collage: To prepare for this activity, you’ll need a large sheet of drawing paper with the outline of a rainbow drawn on. You can set up six or seven sections depending on whether or not you will include indigo and violet as in a true rainbow or just purple. Enlist the help of older children to cut colorful pictures from recycled seed catalogs or gardening magazines. Children can sort the pictures into color categories. With younger ones, I like to isolate one color row at a time. We love double sided tape for this project but you can also use a glue stick or white glue.
Garden Scavenger Hunt: We love a great scavenger hunt here! You’ll really need your sense of sight to find pollinators, songbirds, flowers, herbs, vegetables, worms, a rock and any number of other things in your own garden. You can create your own scavenger hunt list or try one of the great Spring Nature Scavenger Hunts at I Heart Crafty Things. You can search your own garden or yard, walk through your neighborhood or visit a community garden, park or botanical garden center.
Through Their Eyes: How do our gardens look through the eyes of an ant? Or a butterfly? Or a bird? Using storytelling and dramatic play, try to imagine how plants and flowers look to the little critters and creatures in our gardens. You can also add in some viewing tools to the mix like binoculars, prisms, magnifying glasses and kaleidoscopes.
Plot Plans: Whether you’re actually planning and designing your garden or just drawing up a dream, graph paper is the perfect base to this art activity to design your own garden. Add in your favorite drawing utensils and perhaps some stickers or magazine clippings of vegetables, fruits and flowers and design your own garden blueprints.
What to Plant: When it comes to growing your own edible garden, I highly recommend planting at least one thing you know you like and at least one thing you know will grow well! If you want to mix it up a bit, grow a pizza garden with tomatoes, peppers, and favorite savory herbs. Grow a salsa garden with tomatoes, cilantro, garlic and onions and perhaps some hot peppers. Try a traditional Three Sisters Garden with squash, beans and corn. Plant a salad bowl by choosing a variety of lettuces to grow in a large bowl shaped planter.
U-Pick Plot-Luck Playdate: Gather some neighbors or friends and enjoy your garden harvest together. You can invite others to bring tasty treats from their own gardens or provide the produce yourself. Build your own pizza parties are a popular choice and even pickier eaters might have fun with a garden salad bar! Children can be involved in as much of the process as possible–from harvesting and picking produce to washing, cutting, preparing and baking–and most importantly, eating!
Extra, Extra, Eat All About It: Pair some fresh picked produce with a popular children’s book. There is a great list of Gardening Books for Kids to help steer you toward some fabulous titles. Here are a few of our favorite pairings:
- Fresh Picked Jam Berries go quite nicely alongside Jamberry by Bruce Degen, Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell and Lillian Hoban ,and The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear by Don Wood. They’re so yummy right off the plant, but they are also quite delicious made into jam. Try out this easy recipe for Quick Refrigerator Strawberry Jam.
- Blueberries are great for snacking and delicious in pancakes. Mix up a batch of your favorite pancake recipe and see how many blueberries are left to add in once you’re done munching! You’ll definitely want to read Robert McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal while you’re waiting for them to brown.
- Pick a Pickling Cucumber and read Pickles to Pittsburgh, the equally wonderful sequel to Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Ron and Judi Barrett. Then whip up a batch of Easy Refrigerator Dill Pickles!
- Quick and Easy Fresh Mint Tea is the perfect way to use some of super easy to grow mint leaves in your garden or kitchen window. Enjoy it warm or iced or even mixed with lemonade and read Miss Spider’s Tea Party by David Kirk!
Gardening with children is a full sensory experience. I hope this small collection of five senses in the garden activities will enhance your time outdoors and in the garden this year!
SAVE PLANNING TIME WITH PRINTABLE LESSON PLANS
Save time and get right to the playful learning with our printable lesson plan sets. Each set includes over 30 playful learning activities related to the theme, and we’ve provided different versions for home preschool families and classroom teachers so all activities are geared directly toward your needs.
GARDEN THEME LESSON PLANS
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FIVE SENSES THEME LESSON PLANS
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