Daycare and community connect kids with nature
By Jenna Johnstone
photo by Jenna Johnstone
Preschool teacher Bridget Keys shows a child
how to interact with the spearmint plant in
the sensory garden at the University
Children's Center Sept. 21.
The University Children's Center staff at UW-Fox developed and grew a sensory garden this summer.
A sensory garden is an interactive garden that assists in the development of the five senses, using a hands-on approach.
"There are so many things that [the children] love about it, it's kind of a tranquil place for them to go to be alone," director of the University Children's Center, Wendy Eagon said.
The garden features plants that the children can touch and smell, and items like bells that appeal to the other senses.
"We're working on our playground to develop it into more of a natural playground," Eagon said.
"A sensory garden is a great hands-on opportunity for the children to connect with nature. Studies show connecting kids to nature is as important as nutrition and sleep."
While the garden aims to develop the senses, the main goal of the garden is teaching the children about nature, reusing, and recycling.
"Trying to build the connection with children in nature is so important. It's an investment that they're proud of," Eagon said.
"It's a great way to extend our classroom outdoors and it lets children freely explore."
Planning started last fall, and the garden began to take shape last spring with help from the community.
"In designing it, we worked with master gardener Ruth Frye from the community, she helped us develop the plan," Eagon said.
Students for Sustainability built two raised beds for the garden this summer, and a crew from Rawhide Youth & Family Counseling came for a community service project as well.
Those involved with the project expanded the fruits and vegetables they planted with a wellness grant.
Children from the center were involved in the project from the beginning.
"The children helped do the planting. We have a rubber plant, bunny tails, sensitive plants, rainbow carrots, walking onions, morning glories, chocolate mint, sage, and spearmint, which the children love to touch," Eagon said.
The shady area where the garden is located and a dry summer required lots of watering, which the kids had no problem helping out with.
The journey of planting the garden was not only enjoyed by the children, but by everyone involved.
"I really enjoyed planting with the kids…the different areas are a lot of fun," teacher Bridget Keys said.
"It's a great hands-on area for the children to interact."
The garden has taught the children numerous ways to reuse and recycle. Food grown in the garden, like the chocolate mint, is eaten at snack time.
The children turned rocks tilled from the garden into art projects and also began composting. The garden features trellises made from old crib sides and a natural table with chairs donated by a community member.
Learning from the Earth and getting full usage of everything in the garden is what the project's objective. The garden is in a continuous state of growth.
"It's a work in progress, it's not finished," Eagon said.
In the future, the center hopes to add more raised beds, vegetables, plants and even a yoga area.
For information on how to contribute to UW-Fox's sensory garden, contact Wendy Eagon at firstname.lastname@example.org.