Sensory spaces provide an opportunity to promote positive mental health and wellbeing for children.
Be You participating service, Goodstart Early Learning Toowoomba Glenvale Road, has developed an outdoor sensory wellbeing space to promote mental health.
Children and families actively participate in maintaining this space to build a mentally healthy community. It features a waterfall and a sensory garden with plants that children can touch, smell and feel.
The garden has a variety of plants, flowers, fairy accessories, natural elements and recycled items that inspire and nourish children’s imaginations and where they can just sit and rest.
While playing in the sensory wellbeing space, children use all their senses, sight, sound, smell, touch and taste as well as spatial awareness, balance and curiosity to explore and interpret the world around them. As children actively explore textures and objects they are able to relax, regulate emotions, become calmer and enhance their sense of focus.
Be You offers resources that can support educators in planning spaces that support positive mental health and support children to practice and develop social and emotional skills.
How to create a sensory space
The first step is to choose an ideal space. This can be indoors or outdoors, an entire room or simply a separate space. When choosing it’s important to consider the following:
- Is it a quiet space?
- Are children able to spend time there without distraction?
- Does it include areas for sitting, standing and climbing?
Most interactions with sensory spaces happen at ground level. However, secondary levels offer older children opportunities to explore. Objects and materials that support secondary levels of engagement can be benches, logs, platforms, tree stumps and bridges.
Once a location has been selected, educators can consider items to fill it. Sensory spaces use plants and other materials to create a self-contained area with a variety of aromas, textures, colours, noises and shapes. An ideal sensory space includes children’s ideas and views.
What to include in a sensory space
Add objects of visual interest. You can achieve this by using plants that creep, climb, trail, bush or stand upright and objects of different colour, shape, visual texture and shades.
Incorporate a variety of acoustic elements, such as the sound of wind rushing through the leaves, rustling grass and singing birds. Objects like wind chimes, fountains and birdbaths can also enhance your space.
Sensory spaces offer wonderful opportunities for tactile exploration. Incorporate a variety of textures, from plants, flowers, leaves, springy moss, rough bark, succulent leaves, wood, seed pods and rocks. Man-made items such as fabric and toys of different sizes, shapes and textures also make a great addition. Add sensory pathways of sand, gravel, flagstone, woodchips, or perhaps smooth stepping stones. Take a look at Goodstart Camira’s wellness garden for inspiration.
Fragrance is an important aspect of sensory spaces. Smells can come from blooming flowers and plants such as honeysuckle, lavender, violets, mint, and chocolate cosmos, or mulches, wood shavings and grass clippings. Remember to have a balance of both strong and subtle smells that children may explore directly or indirectly.
Add edible and nontoxic plants to your sensory space. There are numerous plants such as fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices that you can consider. Many of these are also colourful and aromatic. Examples are various lettuces, kales, cherry tomatoes, strawberries and Lilly Pillies.