‘Children judge the natural setting not by its aesthetics but by how they interact with the environment’ (Sebba, 1991)
The Outdoor Classroom
Play and Sensory Based Learning
A sensory garden is a wonderful way for children to explore their senses and learn about the environment around them. It is also a healthy place of discovery and gets children outdoors. A critical and sometimes overlooked design element in sensory gardens is the play based space. A study conducted in a sensory school garden, by Hazreena Hussein with the Department of Architecture, Faculty of Built Environment, University of Malaya, found that students spent a longer time in areas where sensory, rather than aesthetic value, was emphasised. Dr. David Whitebread's report, The Importance of Play conducted at the University of Cambridge supports the finding that play is integral in intellectual achievement and emotional well-being. Furthermore, Dr. Whitebread argues that play is crucial in the development of metacognitive and self regulatory abilities. The American Academy of Pediatrics also states that "undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills". When play is allowed to be child driven, "children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest, and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue" (http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/1/182). In the book The Garden Classroom, Cathy James writes that children learn best through play. She claims that time in the school garden should encourage time for play so that students are given opportunity to try out new ideas and make connections in their learning.
Place Based Learning
Place-based education strengthens students connections to others and to the region in which they live. Amanda Lloyd and Tonia Gray write in the Journal of Sustainability Education, "place-based outdoor learning promotes a relationship with the natural environment and constructs deep environmental knowledge and understanding of the world that surrounds learners" (http://www.jsedimensions.org/wordpress/content/place-based-outdoor-learning-and-environmental-sustainability-within-australian-primary-school_2014_10/). Sensory gardens offer opportunity for place-based education with the incorporation of native plants and flowers, the attraction of local wildlife and through the inclusion of local Aboriginal culture and knowledge. Lloyd and Gray argue that, place-based pedagogy "recognises the importance of forming intimate relationships with place through regular visitations to the same outdoor environment". Sensory gardens provide this opportunity as students are able to observe changes within the garden over time and the different elements of the garden through the seasons.