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A garden for all of the senses
Children can see, hear, smell, taste and touch outdoors at Northeast Georgia Speech Center
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The Fockele Garden Company designed and built a sensory garden at the Northeast Georgia Speech Center in Gainesville with features developed to stimulate the five senses. - photo by Erin O. Smith

The five senses play a much larger role than simply seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling and smelling. Encouraging use of these senses can help children with sensory problems, speech impediments or other disabilities feel more comfortable in their skin while learning and communicating.

The benefits of these senses encouraged the Medical Center Foundation to raise funds for a sensory garden at Northeast Georgia Speech Center. The garden, which opened March 31, is full of plants and features children enjoy.

“The garden is all about the senses coming together,” speech center director Diane Brower said. “A lot of children don’t have integrated senses or have sensory deprivation.”

The Fockele Garden Company designed the space, incorporating play equipment with plants and other physical features to stimulate the senses. Some portions of the garden make sounds, while others stimulate the eyes and nose. Others allow children to experience different tastes and feel a range of textures.

“Some children are distressed by the breeze,” Brower said. “In the sensory garden, they may respond to these feelings differently. Even those in the speech center benefit because kids relate differently to speech in a different environment.”

One of the elements geared toward speech and sound are sound tubes. They allow children at opposite locations to hear and speak to one another even if they are not close to each other.

“Some children will not respond to their name if you call it, but if they hear it in a different way, like through the sound tubes, they may begin to respond,” Brower said.

Children can also express themselves through sound features such as a pebble harp and pipe percussion instrument. The harp allows kids to drop pebbles in designated slots. The pebbles then hit differently tuned strings or pieces of metal on the way down the wooden feature.

“Musical elements are generally calming,” Brower said. “Kids relate well to music.”

Children may also exercise their sense of touch in the garden with unique feeling plants, such as lamb’s ear, a water feature, rocks and even a rubber gravel.

“The kids love to touch the water feature and feel it running in their hands,” Brower said. “They also like the lamb’s ear because it’s so soft.”

Rosemary, thyme and other herbs allow new scent experiences, while lettuces, cucumbers, berries and other vegetables expand their palates with tastes ranging from sweet to sour.

“Sensory gardens engage you in all elements of the garden,” Julie Evans, The Fockele Garden Company co-owner, said in a news release. “Students can feel plants with different textures, see bright colors and smell the herbs and flowers. The sound tubes, steel drum, pebble harp and fountain add sound elements to the garden.”

Brower noted the sensory garden benefits most children in the speech center but it is especially helpful to youth who have autism.

“Most autistic children have sensory issues,” Brower said. “One of the primary characteristics of autism is a lack of communication, and the garden gives us a way to encourage use of the senses and communication.”

Brower mentioned approximately 40 percent of clients at the speech center have a form of autism. However, all of the children at the speech center can use the garden and accompanying sensory room funded from the Medical Center Foundation’s 2013 golf tournament.

“If they have already had small group therapy, then they may go swing or slide on the playground equipment,” Brower said. “Others (who) aren’t as eager to play really like the water feature.”

Some finishing touches are in the works, such as rocks for the water feature. But Brower said she is pleased with the final product.

“For such a small space, it has so many different aspects,” she said. “We have been planning for it ever since we moved into this building in 2010, and it’s great to see it all put together.”

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