Creating a sensory garden

Welcome to our garden

I’ve always loved visiting parks with nature trails, arboretums with their variety of trees, and National Trust style gardens featuring formal, walled and wild meadow areas. I feel like there’s something soothing about spending time outside somewhere green, with lots of colourful, scented plants or trees, and the sound of birds or a stream nearby.

I heard about the idea of ‘sensory gardens’ recently; these gardens use carefully selected plants and other elements to enhance people’s experience of seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting. I love this idea, and thought it would be a great way of bringing some of the elements I like from nature to our own doorstep. I developed the idea of using the little space tucked away at the bottom of our garden to create a nature ‘sensory’ area; somewhere for me to sit and enjoy a cup of tea, and for the boys to have their very own ‘nature trail’.

I wanted to include things that appealed to all the senses – were nice to look at, colourful, had texture and scent, and made lovely sounds.

The area is only small, but we’ve managed to incorporate lots of elements already.

Sound

When building a sensory garden there are lots of ways to harness sound. Natural sounds of plants – the sound of the wind through long grass or trees for instance.

The maple tree provides lovely rustling of leaves in the breeze; I added some wind chimes too – lovely bamboo ones that make a soothing, soft muted chime, plus a little tinkley metal one with a seahorse at the top. Toddler loves to run underneath and bash them with his hand to hear them chime.

Bamboo wind chimes that make a lovely soothing muted chime

Bamboo wind chimes that make a lovely soothing muted chime

The gravel underfoot also makes a satisfying crunch as it is walked on.

Next year I’d like to add a (child-friendly) water feature to add to the natural sounds.

Smell

There are so many plants to choose from to add fragrance to the garden.

One thing to think of when adding plants is, how do they release their scent? Lavender for example sometimes needs to have a hand run over it to generate its fragrance. Some plants need to have their leaves crushed and some release their fragrance in the evening.

I chose to add Lavender – my all time favourite plant. Nice to look at and creates an amazing scent when brushed – little hands like to do this I find! I also have some Honeysuckle growing up a trellis at the front of the garden, and this should create a nice scent in the evening should I wish to sit out and enjoy the fruits of my labour on a warm night.

Touch

One of the key elements for my garden is touch, particularly good for small children. I’ve planted some really lovely foliage for this:

Stachys Lanata, better known as ‘Lamb’s tongue’. It is a nice silvery-green colour, but best of all, the leaves are ‘woolly’ to the touch, adding some texture to the garden.

Plants in the sensory garden

Artemesia Schmidtiana ‘nana’ –  a semi-evergreen perennial with soft silvery leaves that feel silky and it has a nice fragrance adding to the texture and scent of the area.

Carex ‘frosted curls’ – a compact grass plant, with iridescent foliage that shimmers in the breeze and feels nice to run your hands through.

My intended water feature will also be good for little hands to feel the running water.

Taste

We have plenty of fruit plants in the garden, including a plethora of tomato plants – I may move one into the sensory area to add to the taste element. The smell of tomato leaves is also nice. I am also intending to plant some herbs in pots to dot around, which the boys might like to taste, including mint and basil.

Sight

Colour, visual texture, form and movement are key elements here, and the range of plants I’ve put in should stimulate the sight fairly well. There’s a range of colours too – orange-red flowers on my exotic palm style plant (can’t recall the name!), purple on the lavender, and the lovely shimmery silver greens of the ‘nana’ and lamb’s tongue. The gravel is a light colour and makes the front of the area very bright, whilst the back is more shaded and has a lovely dappled sunlight effect through the branches of the tree.

Once the plants get going, it should be an amazingly green space!

Once the plants get going, it should be an amazingly green space!

To add to the overall experience, we’ve placed some slabs (aka stepping stones) in a nice pattern to encircle the tree, allowing the little ones to jump from one to another, going underneath the wind chimes and around the tree as they go.

Finally, my finishing touches were to add our ornaments, ‘Greenbert’ the frog, and ‘Sammy’ Snail, our very own little guardians of the garden.

I’m sure we’ll be able to add more to the garden as time goes on, I’d love to add a bee-log and some bird feeders to encourage more nature to visit, but for now, I’m pretty pleased with the results from our weekend of hard work and Toddler seems pretty impressed by it too.

I would like to give a special thanks to Mr N who worked extremely hard to transform the ground by clearing away the old gravel, adding a groundsheet and new gravel, moving slabs around and doing lots of lifting and digging! Without him our sensory garden would still be a dream 😀

Toddler crafts: colourful paper-plate birds

decorated paper-plate birds

decorated paper-plate birds

Rooting through the craft box from the playgroup to come up with a new craft idea, I found a load of different coloured tissue paper and some ‘googly eyes’. Little ones love to stick things with glue, so I bought some cheap paper plates* and settled on a ‘bird’ theme.

These wobbly birds can be decorated in all sorts of ways and look really nice 😀

As always, we did a trial run at home just to make sure it would work.

The tots at playgroup loved sticking the different coloured items onto the plates and came up with all sorts of styles, including one bird with 12 googly eyes!

paper-plate bird craft

First gather your craft items; we had PVA glue, a selection of torn up tissue paper, some stick-on googly eyes, colourful craft feathers and assorted bits and bobs such as mini pom-poms, stick on stars and glitter glue pens.

Take a paper plate and fold in half. Stick on a googly eye (we just decorated one side, but you can decorate both).

Using the glue, get creative and decorate your bird.

decorated paper-plate bird

decorated paper-plate bird

Toddler crafts - decorated paper-plate bird

decorated paper-plate bird

* I tried this using thick paper circles the first time round (you can see the circles in one of the pictures above), however, as we used a fair amount of glue, the paper started to bend slightly so the bird didn’t wobble. The paper plates were much thicker and worked better.

Lessons in Life

As I was cleaning the fridge this morning, I started to daydream about having a new fridge freezer – one of those fancy, huge American-style ones with double doors and an ice and water dispenser.

Then my thoughts drifted to the tiny fridge my Grandparents own, one of those small 70’s ones with a tiny freezer compartment at the top and just about enough room for a few pints of milk, some veg and butter. It occurred to me how happy my Grandparents are – they never appear to want material things, and are entirely happy with the seemingly outdated yet perfectly functional things they have. My Grandparents are in their 80’s; born pre-World War II, they hail from an era of ‘waste not, want not’, when people had little and didn’t possess an insatiable need for new material things.

Perhaps if they’d had endless media being streamed to them 24-hours a day advertising the latest in technology, or reality TV shows or glossy celebrity magazines giving an insight into how the rich and famous lived, then they might have developed a taste for material things.

I then started to worry about the types of values I was teaching my children. I have this image in my mind of being a person that avoids the whole ‘disposable’ lifestyle of buying things that are then thrown away a short time later, only to be replaced by something else. I also vowed before Toddler was born to never have a household full of plastic toys. Unfortunately somewhere along the way these vows dissolved and I am guilty of buying Toddler lots of (often plastic) toys to fit in with his latest obsession. He currently loves Bob the Builder, so I got hold of some Bob toys (thanks to my cousin I have some lovely second hand Bob machines such as Scoop and Roley and have just put a bid in on Ebay for a Dizzy toy). It was the same when he loved In the Night Garden and whatever other phase he was going through.

But would my children be better off without these things? I’m not suggesting we just offer our kids a couple of cardboard boxes and a piece of string or something, though am sure they’d get a few hours of fun from it none the less! What did strike me, is the values that my Grandparents have – a respect for others, honesty, hard work, not expecting things to be handed to them freely, generosity (they are endlessly generous with their time, thoughts and money, often giving away the little they have). They’ve worked to pass these values onto their family and I like to think they’ve done a good job. Now it’s my turn to pass them onto my children.

I came across a great post from Becoming Minimalist (who I’ve quoted before) about the 15 things children should value more than possessions, many of which are the themes that my Grandparents believe in. Check out the post here.

Parenting.com also has a nice post on the 5 values we should teach our kids, including honesty, consideration, justice, determination and love. They include some great anecdotes from small children too which made me smile – we can certainly learn a thing or two from their perspective on the world.

The most important thing is that our children learn from us every day. The values we hold and the actions we take will imprint on their growing minds and they will take their cues from us. So what is it we really want them to learn? What kind of adults do we want them to grow up to be?

Bearing these issues in mind, the next time I start daydreaming about a new fridge freezer, or go to click that ‘Bid’ button on Ebay, I might just have a think about what life lessons I could be teaching my little ones instead that don’t involve material possessions. Maybe I’ll learn something too!

Like herding cats

Sometimes trying to manage small children is a bit like herding cats – exceptionally frustrating and sure to test your patience to the limit; just when you think you’ve got it in hand, one of them distracts you and the others all make a run for it.

A case in point was my trip to Sainsbury’s a couple of days ago. Toddler is now a tad too big to sit in the trolley seat and Tiddler no longer wishes to recline in the baby chair so is sitting in the little seat instead. This means as well as concentrating on trying to put what I need into the trolley as quickly as possible, I need to keep my eye on Toddler who is taking great delight in the freedom of being a small person in a big shop full of tempting goodies to grab.

Whilst navigating the fruit and veg section on our last visit, Toddler decided to rearrange the peppers. Quite cleverly, he was putting the yellow ones back into the yellow section as they had been left in the red pepper box. Not a big deal, though I had to warn him not to poke his fingers into the peppers. Then he came running up to me waving some celery about. I had to gently persuade him to return it to its place as it wasn’t on the list. Celery returned, he then decided to pick up some loose bits of onion skin and taste them. Mmm, yum. Following this he chose some loose tomatoes and proceeded to take a big bite out of one of them; slightly tastier than onion skin but still not quite what you want your child to be doing, I felt really guilty hiding it back at the bottom of the tray, hoping no one had spotted me.

Still trying to remain in control and calmly asking him to not pick up the produce, I continued to make my way around the store. In the yoghurt aisle he decided to entertain the other shoppers by spinning around and squealing at the top of his voice before bringing me a small pot of fromage frais from what I can only assume was a multi-pack. By this point I was in the tinned fruit section and not in the mood to traipse back round to the dairy bit to put it back. I hid it behind some fruit jelly pots, again hoping no one saw.

In between all of this I was gamely trying to convince Tiddler that chewing the metal bits of the trolley were not nutritious or particularly hygienic (I usually wipe as much of the trolley within chewing distance as possible but stupidly had forgotten to replace the wipes in my changing bag). Sadly he was having none of it and continued to chew, moving onto licking the side of the baby reclining chair when he was done with the metal bars. At least he kept his shoes on this time; usually I receive a tap on the shoulder from a nice old lady who has spotted said shoe in the cereal aisle and tracked me down to the checkout.

At least Toddler stays fairly close whilst I’m packing the bags and paying, and I like to count our food shopping trips as one of our ‘activities’ for the kids to enjoy, and they certainly seem to! And one day I might have the chance of a stress-free shopping trip with no missing clothing or half-eaten vegetables having to be hidden from view (I wonder how much supermarkets actually lose each year from such toddler related endeavours?)

The season of infancy

Next week sees the official end of my maternity leave; I’ll be returning to work in my capacity as a professional CV writer. I do this from home and work around family commitments, so on a day to day basis, not too much will change – I’ll still be looking after the two little monkeys and getting to see them grow up. It did make me think however how quickly the time goes.

Tiddler is now 8-months old and advancing so quickly – aside from zipping about on all-fours, he’s standing up and can take tiny steps when I hold his hands! Toddler will be starting a pre-school playgroup in September, and we’ll need to start thinking about schools properly soon – my baby is now a proper little boy!

Those first few precious months with a newborn are such a sleep-deprived, emotional roller coaster that it’s hard to appreciate, and often (usually when feeding Tiddler at 3am) I would wish for this period of time to speed by as it was so difficult. Now those months are becoming a distant memory.

A friend said to me recently that bringing up infants ‘tis but a season’, and she’s right, in the grand scheme of life the infant years really are over in the blink of an eye. And that season can be what you make it – a long painful winter with small glimpses of sunshine, or a joyful, sun-filled spring with lots of colour and optimism. So for all the tantrums, constant wiping of dribble and nappy changes, I’m going to enjoy the baby years to the full and make this a spring season that lasts as long as possible.

Nappy Olympics

Whilst replacing Tiddler’s nappy earlier, I realised that nappy changing can be a bit like the Olympics.

Some days feel like nappy changing marathons, nappy change after nappy change with no let up until the last ‘dream’ change at 11pm, before falling into bed for 8-hours before any more nappy action.

Other days see a relay of changes – first Toddler, then Tiddler, then Toddler again, with both Mummy and Daddy handing over the changing baton for the next dirty nappy.

Then we have the sprint changes, the ones that I try to do as quickly as possible as I’ve not left myself enough time to get us all ready to leave the house (again); quite often these sprints can turn into the 800 or even 1500 metres, with multiple-changes having to be done followed by a switch of clothes due to unfortunate spillages.

Quite often, it’s not just running, but a combination of other disciplines. Gymnastics and wrestling for example, as Tiddler likes to mix things up a bit on the changing table; now he’s at the mobile stage he is a willing (and very able) participant in such sports. In fact, he would probably earn the gold medal for wrestling his way out of a clean nappy. There are times too when he adds a bit of Formula One style pit-stop action in just for good measure, giving Mummy a matter of seconds to get a nappy change done from him being placed on the changing table to him flipping over onto his front before speeding off and attempting to dive to the floor (Tom Daley style).

Not wanting to be outdone by the little ones, I am getting quite good at the nappy-bag shot-put into the bin.

So if one day, the nappy Olympics do actually come to town, I think we’ll be more than ready!

Toddler crafts – quick and easy pirate hats

Toddler in pirate hat

As it was such a dreary day outside, I decided to get crafty with Toddler again. This time we came up with hats – mainly pirate hats, but we also made some crowns too.

They were really easy to do and can be decorated in lots of different ways.

Here are the instructions for the pirate hat:

Take a piece of card around A3 size (we used some scrap book paper which was a bit too thin, I’d use slightly thicker card next time even though it worked ok).

Fold in half.

With the fold at top, place a bowl or small plate on the card and draw a hat shape using the bowl / plate as guidance.

pirate hat instructionsPirate hat instructions2Pirate hat instructions3

Cut around the line you drew. You’ll now have 2 pirate hat shaped pieces which can be decorated.

Pirate hat instructions4Pirate hat instructions5

Glue or use tape to stick the ends of the hat together and fold the sides, squeezing the hat outwards so it can be worn (see pic!).

Pirate hat instructions6Pirate hat instructions7

Wear with a smile 🙂

The hats can be decorated in lots of different ways. Ours was quick and simple and featured a biro-drawn skull and cross bones; Toddler also decorated another with stickers.

Toddler loved wearing his hats and convinced Mummy and Daddy to also wear them too…

Variations:

Try felt tip pens, crayons, paints.
Stick foam or felt shapes on.
Make a pattern with glue and cover with glitter.

We also made a crown, and not wanting our little Gruffalo to miss out, we also made matching hats for her!

Gruffalo in pirate hat

Gruffalo in crown

Summer fun

So we finally had a bit of nice weather, the thermometer stayed above 20 degrees centigrade for several days in a row, which I believe in the UK we call a ‘heat wave’.

We decided to try out Toddler’s latest gift, a paddling pool from his Auntie, a lovely small multi-colour 3-ring one which I have to say, was much easier to deal with than the 8-foot swimming pool Auntie had been threatening to buy until I pointed out that it would take up pretty much the whole garden and require a significant amount of water to fill.

Paddling pool

I added some plastic balls, Toddler’s water mill and bucket and sat back on a garden chair to sun myself whilst Toddler went crazy for 30-minutes. He is a proper boy now; even when he started to shiver as the water had gone cold and the sun had gone in, he refused to come out. I had to tempt him with a snack!

Not wanting Tiddler to miss out on outdoor fun, we also had a picnic lunch; Tiddler loved grabbing at the food he could reach. For anyone following Baby-led weaning, we had cheesy pitta bread, veggie mini-sausages, cucumber and cherry tomatoes, hummus and rice cakes, then some strawberries (followed by a few sneaky blades of grass before I spotted him!). Yum!

Let’s hope summer really is here to stay so we can get outdoors a bit more.

Rolling Gruffalo Numbers Game

 

Gruffalo numbers game

Toddler invented a new game today which we are calling the Rolling Gruffalo Numbers Game.

The game involves a toy car, Toddler’s beloved ‘Baby Gruffalo’, and some foam hop-scotch numbers.

The idea is simple, pick a number and from the starting point try to roll the Gruffalo on the car to that number without him falling off.

Rolling Gruffalo

Toddler really enjoyed telling Mummy to ‘try again’ over and over as her free-wheeling skills weren’t always up to scratch. We also enjoyed the following conversation:

Toddler: Mummy, you pick number

Me: Ok, number 8

Toddler: No Mummy, number 10

Pick a number...

Pick a number…

Toddler crafts: sea collage

Ok, so as per an earlier post, in my playgroup leader capacity, I am trying to come up with suitable craft ideas for the group (ages 0 – 4). The upside of this is that Toddler gets to have a practice run beforehand.

I had the idea of collages – using different textures to create a picture. With summer coming up, I thought a seascape collage would be perfect. With this idea in mind, I cut up some assorted card with both straight and wavy scissors (various card colours, holographic and corrugated for textures etc) and Toddler and I set to work creating.

This is the ‘master’ collage, the kind of template I was thinking for the others to follow, or at least give them an idea of what can be done.sea collage 1

Simple to do, but the kids can get as creative as they like – as you can see from Toddler’s pictures!

This first one we did together:

sea collage 2

then I let him loose, just helping to add glue using the glue spreaders as though he’s fairly dextrous, this can be a bit tricky for him. Toddler’s final picture is a bit more abstract, which is great, as the point is to get him using his imagination.

sea collage3

I’ve kept the materials quite basic – various sorts of card, some foam, a few stickers, some pom-poms and pipe cleaners (I took care to bend the tops slightly as they were slightly sharp), plus glue and a piece of coloured card to stick things to.

The great thing about collages, is they can be altered for different themes – spring flowers or gardens, holidays such as Easter or Christmas, or to fit in with something the group might be focusing on that particular week.

Variations

Good ideas I’ve seen online include:

Keeping to one colour palette, e.g. blue;

Using paints in various shades of one colour to paint a background first before embellishing with different things – card, fabric, beads, stickers or craft foam;

Allowing older children to create an ‘emotions’ collage, e.g. using various items, images (maybe ripped from magazines) to show how they feel about something.

I’d love to hear about your toddler craft ideas!