We were inspired to explore the importance of experiencing nature through the use of our five senses by research, which shows that children are spending much less time outdoors than previous generations.
Our goals for this project were to learn how nature positively affects mental and physical health, foster community and teamwork through planning and implementation, and use milk cartons to create a sensory garden.
Students from kindergarten through fifth grade participated in this project. Our students live in a rural farming community, and our school is small. They may spend more time outdoors than children in cities, but they are not immune from the lure of electronics and busy schedules that keep them from experiencing nature.
During our learning times, we used our five senses to closely examine a raisin, discussed how nature pictures make us feel, and learned what research says about the effects of nature on our health.
We discovered benefits that include building confidence, promoting creativity and imagination, teaching responsibility, activating our senses, getting kids moving, and reducing stress and fatigue. Researchers have found that people who spend time in nature can have a stronger immune system and sufficient vitamin D levels.
Through formal discussions about picture books such as “The Curious Garden” (Peter Brown) and “The Night Gardener” (Jonathan Auxier), students were able to identify the changes that happen to individuals and communities when gardens are planted and tended.
They noticed the ways people were drawn outside and to each other. Through brainstorming ideas for a sensory garden, it was evident that students were in tune with what helps them feel calm in nature and what activates their senses.
While working together, we overheard students sharing their own nature experiences. The kindergarten and first graders demonstrated creativity when asked what they could use a stick for, so we listened to the book” It’s Not a Stick” (Antoinette Portis) and created pictures.
Students took ownership in the project and were very creative.
In addition to planting a variety of succulents, flowers, herbs, and a few edibles, the kindergarten class used cartons to make touch ‘n’ feel sensory boxes, first graders worked with partners to create bird feeders, second graders used cartons to decorate an arch, third graders made bee houses, fourth graders created mobiles to move in the breeze, and fifth graders worked in groups to design water features.
Teamwork was evident as students made plans together and then cooperated to complete their part of the sensory garden. Especially challenging was the fifth-grade water feature. The goal was to attach cartons to a pallet in a way that the water could run down. Students worked together to combine their ideas and had to rethink their plan when the first design did not work.
Volunteers helped us complete our garden. Families donated cartons, while parents cut cartons, painted pallets, made the arch, and helped build the water feature. Our high school agriculture department has been involved.
The horticulture class provided the succulents, taught the second-graders about the plants, and helped plant them. Other agriculture classes helped with planting flowers in first grade and designing water features with the fifth graders. They have been instrumental in taking pictures and putting together the video.
After weeks of hard work, a warm day was chosen to put all the parts of the sensory garden together. Throughout the day, students placed plants in cartons on pallets, hung birdfeeders and bee houses made with cartons, decorated an arch with cartons, set out cartons filled with nature items to touch, hung carton mobiles, and assembled a milk carton water feature.
A poster was added to the garden encouraging visitors to look for “5 things to see, 4 things to touch, 3 things to smell, 2 things to hear, and 1 thing to taste.” Students were excited and proud to take part in creating this garden.
This project has increased awareness of the health benefits of spending time in nature. Students learn and practice life skills while gardening. Teamwork, cooperation and creativity were evident throughout the project. Using cartons encouraged students to think about recycling, reusing, and practicing sustainability.
The carton2garden challenge has inspired us to create a permanent sensory garden in the future. We hope to share our garden and what we have learned with the community. The benefits are many, whether creating, maintaining or simply being present in the space.
by Pam Abrahams