Dulwich Prep Cranbrook tell us about their wonderful Sensory Garden project
During our wellbeing week in January 2022, Dulwich’s SEN team looked at additional projects which could enhance our wellbeing and the seed of an idea took root – to create an outdoor sensory garden for the children.
Dulwich was already a pioneer in the conversation around mental health and wellbeing. We have a long-standing relationship with Place2Be (now over 5 years); the iSpace and #iWonder wellbeing programmes are embedded in our curriculum, which equip our children with the language and skills to talk about and manage their feelings; we interrogate every aspect of our co-curricular offering to find additional ways to enhance wellbeing; and we have regularly hosted Youth Mental Health First Aid courses for local schools and parents in association with the Sam West Foundation. But we are always looking at what more we can do for wellbeing.
We wanted to create a garden that would be an enclosed, safe space, in contrast to our widespread open spaces (we are lucky enough to sit on over 50 acres). It would be somewhere to take a short time out from a lesson, to alleviate anxiety before the start of the day, to find a moment of calm when feeling tired or overwhelmed. We knew the design and execution should be just as important as the end result; it was vital to maximise the children’s involvement from beginning to end. This would be their initiative.
The idea for a sensory wellbeing garden – incorporating all five senses – was taken to the Little Stream children, across Years 1 – 4, during an assembly. The design and elements they wanted to include were up to them and they really rose to the challenge.
The children collaborated on their ideas, which were then presented by a representative from each form at the Little Stream School Council meeting during the Spring term. Lots of truly wonderful ideas were proposed, tying in with the five different senses. Some ideas were perhaps more feasible than others, but we found a way to incorporate as much as possible.
The children’s ideas included a wishing well or water feature, outdoor speakers, rain sticks, insect hotels, a bird box, a stream, wind chimes, and outdoor instruments for sounds.
Fruit trees, plants and herbs were all considered to incorporate taste, while the sense of smell could be achieved through floral scents of lavender or roses. Popular sight requests included lighting, sunflowers, statues, a treehouse, mirrors and colourful artworks. And finally, the sense of touch inspired ideas of textured pathways, sandpits, grasses, a water trough, or the ultimate choice: an animal cuddle corner. The animal cuddle corner came top of everyone’s list.
Local landscape designer, David Sarton, then took the children’s marvellous ideas and used them to create a garden design.
Across several weeks, children, parents and staff collaborated in their efforts to create the garden: we painted fences, made flower beds, built paths, planted flowers, shrubs, fruit trees and herbs, installed water features and ensconced the much-desired guinea pig hutch.
The joy of working collaboratively towards such a positive end-goal was rivalled only by the end result itself. Our Year 3 children were on-hand to open our Sensory Wellbeing Garden to Dulwich staff, parents and children on our Summer Celebration Day 25th June, as planned. The transformation of the space into our Sensory Wellbeing Garden is breath-taking.
Almost every idea presented at the Little Stream Council meeting has been incorporated and the delight among the children in seeing their concepts come to fruition has been a joy to behold. Since its opening we have run clubs and workshops to continue to maximise the children’s connection with the garden – willow weaving to create some shade for a beautiful bench donated by a kind staff member, gardening clubs, maintenance and watering clubs, and guinea pig care. There is so much more yet to come and we look forward to finding more ways in which the garden will contribute to our wellbeing for years to come.
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