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The Benefits of Gardening for Sensory Processing and Building Strength

Updated: Apr 17, 2019

A great way to capitalize on the nice weather, stimulate the senses, and strengthen the trunk and upper body is to spend time outside gardening. It is a wonderful opportunity to spend time with your child and share the experience of growing plants, flowers, fruits, and vegetables.

Gardening offers the unique opportunity to stimulate many of our senses. Our eyes can appreciate the beauty while our noses enjoy the scents of spring and summer. Our tongues can taste the fruits of our labor and our ears can hear the sounds of bees, animals, and birds. Our sense of touch is essential when planting, and enables us to appreciate the different textures of plants, flowers, and vegetation.

Our proprioceptive sense, which is heightened through input provided through our muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons, can be stimulated by “heavy work”. Your child can assist with some of the “heavy work” of gardening by helping you weed, rake, dig in the ground, push the wheelbarrow, and carry the soil and mulch.

Beyond stimulating our senses, gardening is a good outdoor activity for building up strength in our hands and upper body. By being creative, we can use a variety of muscles while attending to some of the basic elements of gardening, like watering and weeding.

  • Watering can: Using a full watering can is another example of “heavy work” and is facilitates upper body strengthening.

  • Garden hose: Squeezing on the trigger with the whole hand promotes overall hand strengthening.

  • Spray bottle: For small indoor or outdoor plants, use a smaller spray bottle and have your child squeeze using just the index and middle fingers to strengthen the smaller muscles with in the hand, and promote separation of the thumb and pinky sides of the hand, which is an important pre-writing skill.

  • Turkey baster: Squeezing and releasing the baster for targeted watering can build up the strength in the muscles of the hand.

To keep gardening fun and avoid frustration, it is important to have good quality, child-sized tools. Tools can be sold as part of a set or individually and can be custom-made to fit your child’s size exactly ( Although lesser quality tools are fun for playing pretend, they are not suited for actual digging and raking.

Activities that rely on the use of gross muscle strength are a good preparation for fine motor activities such as writing, drawing, and cutting.

Blog written by:

Aviva Goldwasser, MS, OTR & Chaye Lamm-Warburg, DPS, OTR, Director of POTS

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