As you enter the gates of the Ian Potter Children’s WILD PLAY Garden in Sydney’s Centennial Park your senses are slowly awakened to the colours, smells and textures of the diversity of its many plant species.
The garden itself is a sensory feast, from the wind through the majestic trees, fragrant flowers and a variety of leaf shapes to see, touch and smell, providing sensory experiences for children and adults alike.
Every plant species in the garden has been carefully selected for its suitability, whether it is for its hardiness, texture, (take time to pat the soft leaves of the Woolly bush), shape or colour. The living landscape of the garden engages the senses as an integrated system as the children make sense of and process the wild play world around them.
Sensory learning is critical for child development
Once the children begin to engage their physical bodies through play, two additional senses go into overdrive, the sense of balance (vestibular) and the sense of movement (proprioceptic). Moving on the balancing eel, running over the wobbly bridge, negotiating the spatial differences as they move through the bamboo forest, are all working to help the child make sense of their own bodies in relation to the world around them. This physical action helps to assess risk, challenge their limits, build strength and capability on the child’s own terms.
The sensory play processing experiences that children undertake when visiting the Ian Potter Children’s WILD PLAY Garden are not accidental. They were part of the strategic design process that included a deep understanding of how children can best experience and make sense of their world and how this translates into a quality play experience.
Create your own sensory playspace
For others interested in creating their own sensory play experience there are no hard and fast rules. Some ideas may include thinking about the types of plants and the location of the planting in the playspace. By designing planting of the playspace in layers you can think about the colour, texture and movement of foliage from underfoot, to hand level, eye level and overhead. Other sensory play opportunities include the use of different topographies, a variety of natural textures, loose natural parts for children to move around, spaces for a variety of physical movement alongside areas for quiet contemplation and/or play providing for a total hands on experience.
Providing areas with no fixed themes of specific play types where children can make up their own games and construct their own imaginative worlds will engage all the seven senses and provide multiple play experiences that will be long lasting, memorable and keep children wanting to come back time and time again.
Come and visit
The Ian Potter Children’s WILD PLAY Garden located in Centennial Park is open every day from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and is free to visit. For more information visit the Centennial Parklands website.
For children and families with additional needs the Parklands runs an out of hours play session once a month with restricted visiting numbers and an onsite educator. For information on these sessions contact the Parklands’ Education Team on [email protected].