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Updated: Jun 1, 2022

Sensory play in the garden is a fun way for children to learn about the wonderful world of gardening. These easy garden sensory activities will teach children about the natural world by seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching, and physically interacting with the world. It's also a great way to keep kids busy while their parent or guardian tends to the garden!


Young children primarily learn about the world through their five senses, and physical movement. Many older children, teens and adults, as well as those with autism, simply learn better through these kinds of interactions than they would otherwise. These garden sensory ideas provide a great way for kids to connect with nature, and for guardians to connect with their kids.


Playing I Spy is an obvious but very fun and effective sensory play activity. A garden is the perfect place to practice learning colors, shapes, and sizes. And when you turn sensory activities into games, children are doubly as motivated to participate!

Here are some tips to take your I-Spy game to the next level:

  • Plant a variety of brightly-colored flowers, fruits and vegetables

  • Rotate rounds between colors, shapes and sizes

  • Grow vertical garden walls

  • Hide objects in the grass or in their play area

  • Hang colorful bird and butterfly feeders


There's a lot of noisy stuff going on in the great outdoors! Even when the neighborhood is quiet, there are tons of exciting sounds to listen to. You can simply change "I-Spy" to "I-Hear," but if you want to change it up, another sensory idea is to ask children to mimic the sounds they hear.

First, ask children if they can hear the following sounds. Then, ask "Can you make the sound of..."

  • Birds chirping?

  • insects buzzing?

  • Branches swaying in the wind?

  • Wind chimes?

  • Dogs barking?

  • Lawn mowers?

  • People talking?


If you have a vegetable or fruit garden, have them eat your tasty crops! The senses of smelling and tasting are closely related to forming memories. Eating what you grow in the garden helps children identify plants by the memory of how they taste. And, it teaches kids that gardens are where all our delicious food comes from!

If you don't grow food in your garden, don't sweat it! Instead, give kids fruits or vegetables from the grocery store, and teach them about how they can be grown in a garden just like yours. You can also freeze different types of fruit juice to enjoy on a hot day!

NOTE: Our Garden-to-Table Kit gives you everything you need to start growing food in your garden! It includes vegetable and fruit seeds, planting and growing guides, recipes, and art activities that kids could make with their food.


There are so many different smells in the garden! Flowers, herbs, freshly-cut grass, the neighbors next door - the list goes on! Here's a few sensory play ideas to get children learning with their noses!

  • Plant a variety of strong-smelling plants like lavender, lilacs and roses

  • Plant herbs with pleasant smells like mint, basil and thyme.

  • Ask them to close their eyes and guess the name of a plant using just their nose

  • Ask them which flower or herb smells best to them, and which they like the least. What do they like or dislike about them?

  • Let them "help" you in the garden - smelling the dirt is one of the great joys of gardening!


Learning about the natural world through touch is one of most kids' favorite part of sensory play. And the outdoors is full of fun stuff to touch and feel! While you're gardening, ask them to do the following, and ask what they feel after:

  • Mush dirt from the garden in your hands

  • Pick blades of grass

  • Jump in a puddle!

  • Rub different types of flower petals between your fingers. Are they smooth? Rough? Waxy? Which feel the best to you?

  • Lay in the sun

  • Face the cool breeze

  • Crunch leaves

  • Place your hand on different types of tree bark. How do they feel different? Do you like one more than the other?

Use your imagination! But, of course, make sure that what they're touching won't give them a rash, like poison sumac and poison ivy. Look up what they look like before they go touching everything!


The best part of gardening is the fun, sweaty work that comes with it! Young children learn just as much through movement and physical interaction with the world than they do with their five senses. Here are some movement sensory activities to get kids moving:

  • Get kids involved! Have them use (small, plastic) gardening tools to help you dig holes, rake, and get dirty in the garden with you!

  • Harvest your flowers or food crops with your kids! Tell them how you know they're ready to pick, and what you plan to do with them after.

  • Ask for their help pushing wheelbarrows and carrying bags (with very light loads).

  • Ask them to help you water your plants! Have them fill, carry and use a small watering can, or (if you trust them) use your hose (and coil it back up when they're done)!

Identifying and tracking movement in the environment is also just as important as physical interaction. Ask if they can spot a bouncing rabbit, trees swaying in the breeze, squirrels chasing each other, neighbors biking by - you get the picture!


IDEA Collective is a huge believer in the idea that different kids learn better in different ways. Whether or not they're in middle school, or infants still developing, some learn through alternative styles of learning better than others.

That's why all of our workshops and IDEA Kits include activities that engage kids in using their senses, physical interactions, and creative juices to build puzzles and play games as they learn about the natural world.

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