Exploring Plants & Flowers Through the Five Senses
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. In Part 2 of this play theme, we will explore plants and flowers through all five senses!
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:
Select a variety of succulents from your local garden center. 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.
We planted a few pots with a selection of succulents. I used permanent marker and some garden tags I had on hand to make some "Please Touch the Plants" signs and voila! I have to say, this feels like a grown up version of touch & feel books for me! From fuzzy to feathery, bumpy and smooth--this a wonderful way to explore textures and related vocabulary.
Petal Potions Water Table: Playing 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.
Truly, water, flowers and maybe a dish and a spoon (or long stem) are all you need. We added some glitter and food coloring along with a bit of lavender oil for scent. It was a huge hit with both my boys!
Sensitive Plants are a fascinating wonder of this world! If you can get your hands on one (literally), it truly is an amazing thing to experience a plant respond to touch. It's definitely on my gardening wish list!
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 nature preserve or even your local botanical gardens, 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 Windchimes: This is 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 and have an adult help with any necessary handiwork with tools.
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 and upcycled items is a great way to encourage budding musicians of all ages outside. If there is one thing I have learned from both my boys so far, 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 starter plants of a variety of herbs. I recommend some familiar varieties and a few unique ones as well.
Identifying Herbs: You can release the aroma of herbs by gently rubbing a leaf between your fingers and thumb. You can demonstrate and teach children how to do this even without removing a leaf from the plant. Thyme can be quite aromatic simply by brushing your hand over the tiny leaves!
What's That Smell? You'll really need your sniffer for this game! Have each player rub a leaf of familiar cut herbs between his/her fingers and thumb and try to guess the smell. You may need to provide a visual or written key. You can add an element of challenge by blindfolding players so they can really hone in on their sense of smell.
That Reminds Me Of... What smells like lemons but isn't? How about chocolate? Pineapple? Cinnamon? Licorice? Herbs, of course! Lemon thyme, chocolate mint, pineapple sage, cinnamon basil and fennel are all great herbs to trick your sniffer and enhance your dinner (or tea)!
Mortar & Pestle Play: One of my very favorite gardening tools that isn't a gardening tool at all is our mortar and pestle sets! These are great for grinding all kinds of things, but especially fresh cut herbs are amazing in this along with some elbow grease from little hands. It is great fun to grind and smell herbs individually and in combination.
Sensory Play with Herbs: Add in some water and take the aromatic experience of exploring scent with herbs to a whole new level! Choose a variety of herbs that smell lovely in combination like a few types of mint, or lavender and rosemary.
Added to a batch of homemade playdough, cut herbs become decorative and add in a lovely scent and texture. In this simple invitation to play with herbs and playdough, we used some sprigs of fresh cut herbs, scissors and rolling pins. The result was a heavenly aroma and hours of fun!
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.
Art and Artists in the Garden play-theme!
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 (we love oil pastels here) 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! This year, we tried (and succeeded!) at growing our own strawberries. We are on year 3 of very successful cherry tomatoes. If you want to mix it up a bit, grow a pizza garden with tomatoes, peppers, and favorite savory herbs. Or try 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. Growing our own produce has been a way to encourage trying new foods while also providing a unique and personalized "farm to table" experience in our own backyard.
U-Pick Plot-Luck Playdate: Summer is just beginning and our own garden is just beginning to provide us with a small harvest of arugula, sweet peppers, strawberries, and herbs, galore! Radishes are just a couple of weeks away and we have a steady crop of microgreens in our kitchen window. We pick and enjoy what we can as it comes, but at a certain point, the bounty exceeds our own plates and pallets! That's when it's time for a Plot-Luck Playdate! Gather some neighbors or friends and enjoy the harvest together. You can invite others to bring tasty treats from their own garden 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. 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. This is just a sampling of activities to accompany and enhance that experience. We will be back with more activities to take you from Garden to Table next time (although this post probably gave you a little taste of what's to come). Until then...