Touching awakens interest

In Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden, a new Garden of the Senses will open to the public in summer of 2017. Visitors will be able to test a part of the area already this summer.

The Garden of the Senses will be open to all, but is especially intended for children. We adults have a lot to learn from them.

“We could learn from children the art of peaceful observation and intense concentration”, says environmental educator Anni Granroth, who also works as a guide at the Finnish Museum of Natural History sites open to the public.

Sensory perception contributes to developing a relationship to nature

Using one's senses and concrete observation strengthen the development of a personal relationship to nature. Moreover, having a personal relationship to nature is the key to understanding the significance of environmental protection and the necessity of sustainable development, and to becoming cultured in eco-social matters. 

These questions are emphasized in the new national school curriculum for 2016. The curriculum also mentions children's sensitivity to the environment, which is developed by giving children experiences of being outdoors and studying nature.  The starting point for work is what children sense, perceive and experience.

There is a good a reason for accentuating the importance of the senses in the Curriculum. There is abundant evidence that emotional experiences brought about by perception strengthen our ability to learn. With the help of our senses, we are able to enjoy natural environments and take advantage of the benefits for our health.

According to many studies, merely being surrounded by greenery positively affects our mental and physical health.  A green environment helps lower blood pressure, and it calms and heals us. It is even better if we can sniff and touch plants.

The Garden of the Senses creates sensitivity

Children's eyes open to plants when they can peacefully observe and experiment with plants.

“For children, touching and observing things from a close distance is a natural thing. That is why it is wonderful to have a place here in the Botanic Garden where you are allowed to touch”, says Granroth.

“The lamb´s ear is a beautiful example of a plant that is as soft and fuzzy as a baby rabbit. When you stroke it, you can deepen your emotional relationship with these green friends that children might not even regard as being living creatures such as animals.”

According to Granroth, stroking soft-haired plants can make even adult stress hormone levels go down. 

“Plants are nice because they do not run away like animals do. You can stroke them for as long as you wish. I do not think that they feel bad about it.”

Touching helps develop a personal relationship. Likewise, if a child dares to hold an insect in his hand, a relationship will start developing and the fear will disappear.

“We human beings are tactile people, touching is important for creating and developing emotional relationships to things.”

Our feet want to connect to the ground!

This is what was demonstrated by the Swiss doctor Christian Larsen, who developed healing methods for foot problems.

Taika and Leimu Granroth both agree. They show in what order one should advance on the barefoot path.

“We walked through the different zones in different orders. First we stepped on needles from trees, then on pinecones. Then we came to gravel, reeds, sand and, finally, grass. Our feet felt bad until we reached the gravel, and then good all the way to the grass.”

The children took the initiative of extending the path onto a nearby grass field. Next summer, the barefoot path will have a more official extension to become a circular road where you can walk and play and leap like rabbits, for instance. 

“We can recommend this to our friends”, say the children in unison.

Garden of the Senses

The Garden of the Senses is expected to open next summer, south of the Waterlily Room. There will be, apart from plants that you are allowed to touch and the barefoot path, information boards and objects stimulating the senses of sight, taste and smell.

Anni Granroth thinks that information boards with the names of the plants are important in a Garden of the Senses. 

“You can acquire knowledge better when you stop to study a plant close up. Moreover, a plant that does not have a name in Finnish could easily remain distant, without the creation of a personal relationship.  Knowledge about a subject that one can emotionally relate to becomes important and meaningful.” Granroth stresses that an emotional relationship is the starting point for everything.

Educational curator Satu Jovero from the Finnish Museum of Natural History will be responsible for the pedagogical content of the Garden of the Senses and for their corresponding to the new Curriculum. The practical execution of the project will be carried out by the professional gardeners of the Botanic Garden.  

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