SPOTS | Suggs Pediatric Outpatient Therapy Services

Suggs Pediatric Outpatient Therapy Services

Developing Sensory & Motor Skills Through Play


Oak Hill multi-sensory Learning Garden

Oak Hill Academy is currently developing an extraordinary project right in their own backyard. They plan to develop a multi-sensory learning garden in their current learning garden location. At SPOTS, we feel extremely honored to have been asked to consult on this project and believe that this is an extremely unique and innovative design that has incorporated all of the sensory systems!

The garden will consist of a walking trail, chicken coop, raised planter beads, an outdoor pavilion, greenhouse, tool shed, outdoor classroom, play tunnel and earth mound, xylophones, butterfly garden, art board, musical play tubes, extensive landscaping and 4 stations for sensory integration based activities. The school will also integrate several different levels of entrepreneurial learning opportunities into their curriculum using the garden.

The garden will incorporate all of the sensory systems so that the students can reorganize and refresh during their school day. The visual system will be stimulated by richly colored plants, butterfly garden and garden art. Auditory components include a xylophone station, musical play tubes, and the sounds of nature. Fresh herbs and grass will give the olfactory system aromas that will be both stimulating and calming. For example, peppermint plants will help some students energize for the day ahead, while lavender will help other students calm and re-organize. The garden will also yield edible plants, fresh eggs, and herbs for the gustatory system. Tactile components include differently textured plants and walking trail materials.

While most people are familiar with these 5 sensory systems, many are not as aware with the other two extremely important sensory systems that will also be incorporated into the Oak Hill multi-sensory learning garden- the vestibular system and the proprioceptive system. The vestibular system is housed in the inner ear and registers information about movement and gravity. It lets us know where we are in relation to gravity and how we are moving through space. The proprioceptive system gives us feedback from our muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments about where our body is in space. It can be thought of as body awareness. Proprioceptive input is very calming and organizing to our nervous systems. When we become stressed, we tend to look for ways to get input into this system, such as folding our arms, clenching our fists, or chewing on pencils.

These sensory systems, along with the tactile system, are at the base of all motor development and input into these systems helps students to re-group and re-organize. Also, we need to know where we are in space, how we are moving through space and what information is coming in through our skin receptors in order to make efficient and effective motor responses. The right amount of input into these systems leads to functional movement patterns, better focus and maximized learning potential.

The Oak Hill Learning Garden will address these sensory systems through various components. The play tunnel and earth mound will allow students get vestibular and proprioceptive input by rolling down the hill and moving through the underground tunnel. The musical play tube and xylophones will also stimulate the proprioceptive system. There will also be rotating sensory integrative activities at the 4 stations that will address motor planning, bilateral coordination, postural control, reflex integration, eye-hand coordination, and balance just to name a few.

The learning garden is also a great area for motor lab opportunities. A motor lab is a series of specifically planned sensory and motor activities that help to build the student’s developmental foundation and help them organize their nervous systems. The students at Oak Hill can arrive to school and naturally begin their day with sensory inputs that will set them up for success so that they can achieve their full learning potential. The Occupational and Physical therapists at SPOTS will provide ongoing consultation and collaboration with the school to provide this opportunity to all students at Oak Hill.

This is such an exciting project, which is projected to be complete by the end of summer 2015. The students of Oak Hill are being given a truly unique experience, which will help them get the most out of their school day. Please consider contributing to this project and asking your friends or family to donate as well. You can do this by clicking on the following link. Your help is all that is needed to grow this project and the bodies and minds of the students at Oak Hill Academy.

Jennifer Suggs, MOTR, SIPT certified

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