Sensorial activity with plants: Odour lotto

The five senses are stimulated inside a garden. This activity is especially designed to use the senses of touching and smelling, which are often neglected when we use our sight. However by learning to use these senses one can really have a better knowledge of the plants and the garden.

This practice can also contribute to the discovery of the garden by people for which normal sight and explanation are not so good, like visually impaired people.

Objectives

Objectives of the Good practice 

  • To give a better knowledge of plants, especially aromatic plants.
  • To raise awareness of people toward the use of their senses in understanding their surrounding.

Objectives of the leader who implements this practice with his public

  • Contribute to the knowledge of beneficiaries.
  • Make people more confident in their way to feel and discover the garden.

Objectives of the Grundtvig Program of education throughout life to which this activity is connected:

  • Helping people from vulnerable social groups:

Because the practice can contribute to the environmental education of people with special needs, especially blind and visually impaired people, but also can be shared between disabled and others.

Possible educational objectives:

  • Knowledge: how to recognize a plant, botanical vocabulary, use and cultivation of aromatic and culinary plants.

Materials

For the activity (depending on activity implemented) suggestion:

  • Aromatic plants
  • Container for plants to smell (example: opaque plastic containers with holes in the lid, opaque containers with gauze  and elastic rubber band to make the lid, small bags in breathable fabric eg jute…)
  • Tags with names (in braille if people are able to read it, in contrasted and big enough letters for visually impaired, in different languages if interesting)
  • Possibly documents about uses and cultivation of the plants chosen

Implementation

Step by step :

Chose aromatic plants with very distinctive odour for a first experience. For example: parsley, chives or onion or shallot , thyme or rosemary, lemon grass, one mint, fennel or anise or anise hyssop, basil…

6 to 8 samples is enough for a first start, this is quite a lot, you could also proceed with only 3 or 4 .

Prepare 6 to 8 numbered small jars or containers, that are opaque and with perforated lids. You can use for example:  little plastic containers used for drugs or vitamines, or for  camera film rolls, yoghurt pots with flexible plastic lids if opaque, or painted or coated with paper (but be careful of using glass containers, these are breakable). The lids can be perforated or you can use gauze held in place with rubber band. You can also use small jute bags as containers.

Prepare a sample of each of your plants for manipulating and touching. It can be a specimen of the plant in a pot, of just a branch, but big enough to be manipulated by several persons. Better to have  more than one branch.

If the space and the number of people permit it you can use a tray divided into as many compartment as you have plants. The compartments can be marked by 3D painting or small wooden rods to be felt. The compartments can also be marked with highly contrasted colors for the visually impaired.

Prepare the labels with your plants’ names.

Be careful about the text you use: design of the letters related to the degree of autonomy in reading, contrast, size and space in between the letters, possibly braille writting.

Place a sample of plants in each jar.  Rough chopping will help to release the smell.  You can also add some little stones at the bottom of the bottle. Shaking the bottle will slightly crush the plants and release the odours.

To start the game:

First encourage people to discover and identify the plants one by one, finding out together how to make the best description of the plant.  Insist on a description of tactile and olfactory sensations.  This step is very important, and the search of appropriate vocabulary helps in memorizing the plants.

One can describe the size and shape of the stems, leaves.  And use words such as hairy, rough, smooth, embossed, serrated, pointed, rounded, heart-shaped, rocket, sweet, spicy.

Describing the odour is extremely difficult, however, we can still use expressions like:  pleasant/ unpleasant smell that makes you want to eat, sweet smell, green smell...  You can aslo use the link between odours  and places, memories, recipes... Replacing plants in a context linked with memories can help people feel more confident about their knowledge and abilities with the plants.

The game moves on then to associate odors in the jars with plant samples and names.  Especially when it is a first experience, you must proceed gradually because it is not as easy as it seems at first.

For example:

After the first phase of discovering the plants try to match the smell jars and the sample of the plant.  Then associate the smell jar with a plant among a choice of two, or three.  After, you can make the game more complex by progressively introducing more smell jars and more samples.

For more experienced people you can choose odours that are closer together.  For example different kinds of mint or basil, differents plants with the same familly or smell like lemon or anise, the difference between thyme and rosemary, etc.

Evaluation

You can evaluate this activity using the results of your game:  the average success in recognising the plants, but more important is the participation of the people to the activity, the progress made because the starting point will not be the same for all participants.

Tips

To go further the game can be completed with info about the traditional uses, the cultivation, the cooking receipe of each plant.  You can also complete the activity with making syrups or herbal teas, or sharing a meal based on the plants you just played with....

You can also try to recognise the real plant in the garden blindfold.

To go further with sensorial activities you can work with seeds, selecting seeds with different shapes, size and colours: putting your hands in containers full of seeds is a very interesting feeling for the touch sense.  You can also work on the feeling produced by walking barefoot over different materials of the gardens: grass, earth, sand, mulch, straw, wet leaves, etc.