How To Create A Stress – Relieving Garden

Gardeners have long known that the garden – the outdoor space, the nature within it and exposure to fresh air – are elements that combine to combat stress. And there is the science to prove it. From a child to the elderly, from the vulnerable to hardworking parents, the garden can be a haven of peace and tranquillity, the perfect place to de-stress. No matter what the season, the garden has something to offer. But if your garden looks like a myriad of weeds and lacks colour and scent, the time has come to roll up your sleeves and start digging. Gardening is good for you and a pleasant garden is the perfect antidote to a stressful, modern life.

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The Science of Gardening

The garden is for everyone; the elderly can reconnect with memories as they garden, children can learn mathematical and scientific principles, parents and teenagers can relax, listening to the latest podcast or reading the latest best seller for example. Lounging around in a peaceful garden is good for you, and science agrees.

Use Your Senses

When it comes to creating a stress-relieving garden, design the experience around your senses:

Smell

Gardens, filled with fragrant blooms, certainly provide olfactory stimulation. Scents are subtle, not overpowering, and there are some that are known to help us relax and unfold away from stress. Lavender, for example, has long been added to bath products and sleeping remedies, in order to calm the whirling mind before sleep. Along with other fragrant blooms, plant them at the edge of flower beds so that as you walk around the garden, you knock the blooms, releasing the fragrance.

Taste

Growing vegetables is good for you in so many ways. Half an hour of digging and mulching sheds calories, as well as giving your body a workout. The vegetables you grow, free from pesticides and insecticides are good for you. Sitting under the pea vines and eating peas straight from the pod is the stuff of memories and there is nothing like the sweet taste of peas, freshly plucked from the plant. Plant vegetables and fruits with companion plants to get the best from nature.

Sight

What could be more mesmerising than watching a dancing, buzzing bee as it goes about its business, hopping from one fragrant bloom to another? What is more beautiful than seeing a garden full of colour, with insects scurrying about going on with their rituals? Instead of staring at a screen, why not stare at the garden? Allow yourself to drift away, gently swinging in a hammock in the trees or on a comfortable rattan day bed, and watch nature at its best – and marvel at the fact that all this is in your garden!

Touch

Textures are important too. For stress relief, there are many elements that combine together and yet, we give little thought to how touch affects the mind, body and soul. We know that human touch can be restful and reassuring. In effect, this is what you want to create in your multi-sensory garden. There are, of course, some experiences of touch we don’t want – such as the sting of a nettle – but there are other plants that are more conducive to being touched by the human hand. When was the last time you ran your fingertips through the dancing fronds of reeds or tall grasses? Or the soft, fragrant leaves of a geranium? Lambs Ears are a particular favourite of ours. The garden, with clever planting, can be a haven of stress relief, and touch is one sense that you shouldn’t ignore.

Hearing

And the final sense, hearing. At the end of the day, give yourself 20 minutes to enjoy the peace and quiet of the garden. Lie on the rattan day bed or sit in the bistro chair, close your eyes and train your ears to focus on the sounds of nature and not those of man-made origin. Block out the sounds of car engines and trains, or the dull roar of planes overhead, and instead listen for the rustling of the leaves on the trees and the grasses as the wind gently moves their fronds. Listen to the birds, their calls to one another and the buzz of an insect as it whizzes past you. Listen to the gentle movement of water as it tumbles and frolics down the waterfall. The garden, no matter how big or small, is a truly wondrous place, where stress simply peels away.

Rattan Direct is an online retailer, specialising in high-quality rattan furniture. Hard wearing and robust, rattan is a perfect material for outdoor furniture and with a growing choice for the modern consumer, any garden can quickly become a stress-free haven.

*Disclosure: This post was written in collaboration with Rattan Direct.

Exploring Nature Through All Of Our Senses #30DaysWild

Yesterday for 30 Days Wild, I used all of my senses to explore the natural environment around me. Even in a small urban garden, this is a very simple activity that really connects us to the world around us, and helps us to feel balanced and calm at the same time.

Sight

Looking around for natural items, I could see an array of colours. All around there are a variety of flowers, different types of grasses, a few weeks, a tree in our garden with many more in the distance, our growing area, a mass of tiny wildlife hiding in every corner. Such a wealth of things to see.

#30dayswild, #livinglifewild, 30 Days Wild, nature, activities at home, garden, sensory activities

Smell

Not just the flowers, but the air in general. Does it smell clean and fresh? Or maybe something is polluting it? Some of the common smells from an urban garden might be things such as freshly cut grass, food, rain, flowers and herbs, smoke, earthy smells etc… Focus on the natural ones. My favourite is when it has just rained!

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Sound

Listen to the sounds around. I could hear alot of other noise; an ice cream van, people talking, lawnmower, some kind of DIY, the bouncing noise of a trampoline… I tried to filter all of these out and tune into natural sounds. If I listened carefully, I could hear four different bird calls.

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Touch

I touched the grass, then took off my shoes and walked barefoot through it. We did this same activity, called Grounding, last year and I wrote about it briefly here.

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Taste

I didn’t taste anything. However, I could have made nettle crisps so that is perhaps inspiration for some other time! I would also love to learn more about foraging in general, since at the moment I don’t feel confident doing it (except for berries)!

#30DaysWild #LivingLifeWild

Why Our Rooms Are #NotCompleteWithout Texture: The Importance of Tactile Input

As a parent of a child with SEND, including sensory processing issues, I have spent alot of time thinking about how our home environment meets Squiggle’s needs. We have created a specific sensory area in one of our rooms as a space for her to relax whenever she wants and it also offers her sensory stimulation that supports her specific individual needs. 

Julian Charles, #notcompletewithout, home decor, home environment, interior design, SEND, sensory, sensory processing disorder, tactile, textures

One important part of this is through different textures. Squiggle is very tactile. She really likes soft things, so we have a big selection of fabrics available with various different textures to provide her with the tactile input she needs.

Julian Charles, #notcompletewithout, home decor, home environment, interior design, SEND, sensory, sensory processing disorder, tactile, textures

We have a mismatched assortment of colours and styles to also reflect Squiggle’s other sensory needs too; for example, in terms of visual stimulation, she prefers a variety of colours and to have lots of interesting styles and patterns to look at, especially in her sensory chillout area. So we offer her a bright and colourful, albeit somewhat uncoordinated, environment in that particular space at least!

Of course, like most people, we prefer to stick to more of a specific colour theme and therefore have coordinated the rest of our rooms in a more ‘typical’ organised way! But providing Squiggle with a variety of textures to touch and feel is essential for her sensory integration nonetheless, so we have tried to incorporate her tactile sensory needs throughout the rest of our home too; in particular through our choices of home decor. Cushions, throws, drapes and blankets in a variety of different textured fabrics really adds another dimension to our home. The truth is though, even without SEND, it is great for everyone to have a variety of textures in the home environment. It feels good! 

On this note, Julian Charles are also taking ‘the finishing touches’ very literally and asking what interior design a room is #notcompletewithout, especially in terms of texture. They have just released the most beautiful style guide to give you some brilliant ideas on how to incorporate textures in your home.

Julian Charles, #notcompletewithout, home decor, home environment, interior design, SEND, sensory, sensory processing disorder, tactile, textures

I also love this neutral and beautifully coordinated room decor I found on their instagram too, with all the wonderful textures that have been included. It demonstrates perfectly what a difference that textures can make to a room; check out that gorgeous rug and the lovely textured bedding…

Do you have tactile home decor ideas to share and inspire others with? Join in the conversation on facebook and twitter using the hashtag #notcompletewithout… and of course you might also find more inspiration for your own home too!
*This is a collaborative post. 

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm (St Albans, Hertfordshire)

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground at Willows Farm in St Albans, Hertfordshire is a million pound plus development based on the famous Beatrix Potter characters and CBeebies animated series. It opened its doors in April 2016, the year that marks the 150th anniversary of author Beatrix Potter, who has captured our hearts and imaginations for over 100 years with her well-loved children’s tales. It is also the only one of its kind in the world, how exciting!

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out, Beatrix Potter
There are different sections within Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground.

There are different sections within the Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, such as Mr McGregor’s Garden, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle’s kitchen and laundry area, Mr Bouncer’s Great Invention, Jeremy Fisher’s Musical Pond, Lily Bobtail’s Nature area, Benjamin Bunny’s Tree Top Adventures and of course Peter Rabbit’s Secret Treehouse too!

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out, Beatrix PotterPeter Rabbit’s secret treehouse is set around a 100 year old ash tree.

I particularly love Jeremy Fisher’s Musical Pond with its lovely little range of interesting instruments. These are good for various age children I imagine, and they are a great sensory activity.

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out, Jeremy Fisher musical pond, musical instruments, SEN, sensory activity, Beatrix Potter
Jeremy Fisher Musical pond

We haven’t ventured into Mrs Tiggy- Winkle’s area yet because Squiggle is usually too busy playing in the other areas but I have had a quick peek and it looks lovely, particularly for younger children. I wonder if the confined space of the indoor bit might get abit much for some SEND children during busier times but it did look like there were some great sensory activities in there too. We also haven’t explored Mr McGregor’s garden yet. This area includes opportunities for ‘heavy’ lifting of giant radish, which is another great sensory activity. It all looks like alot of fun!

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out, Mr Bouncer Great Invention, interactive technology, Beatrix Potter
Mr Bouncer’s Great Invention

Mr Bouncer’s Great Invention is an interactive latest technology feature where children can play games about colours or calculations, and dance to music. It reminded me somewhat of a fancier version of the dance-off style arcade games or dance mats you can buy for use with consoles at home! It is a nice activity but it can be difficult during busier times if multiple children try to play on it at once. Also, the sound effects coming from here combined with the various other sound effects nearby is potentially overstimulating and I think could easily cause sensory overload for some (SEND) children. The activity itself is certainly a great game though if you have the chance to properly play it! 

One thing I feel could be improved is that it would be far better if the various interactive ‘noisy’ features were more spread out or if there were less of them. Ideally it would be useful if there was more control over them too! Obviously during busier periods this perhaps wouldn’t make much difference, as most likely everything would be in use for the majority of the time regardless, but during quieter times it would be really beneficial if the interactive features could be interacted with rather than automatically activated. For example, Benjamin bunny seems to ‘talk’ at you everytime you get close, as do various other things. I’m sure many SEND children would be much more comfortable if they could choose for this to happen and feel able to move about freely without inadvertently setting off noises around them. However, this does not stop Squiggle enjoying this fantastic playground! (Although I suspect it may do for some).

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out, Lily Bobtail's Nature Area, bug hunting, nature, Beatrix Potter
Lily Bobtail’s Nature Area – Bug Hunting

Another part I especially love is Lily Bobtail’s Nature Area. I am not sure why this section, or the rest of the playground, isn’t actually made from more natural materials, rather than just made to ‘look’ that way. I assume this is due to durability and maintenence I would guess but I don’t know. Either way it does have a lovely natural vibe to it that I really like. Counting the rings on the old tree stump to discover the age of the tree is interesting!

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out, Lily Bobtail's Nature Area, old tree stump, nature, Beatrix Potter
Lily Bobtail’s Nature Area – old tree stump

We haven’t caught any of the shows yet, although they are on at regular times daily, but we did meet both Peter Rabbit and Lily Bobtail (during two separate visits) which was a massive highlight for Squiggle; she loves character meet and greets! 

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out, character meet and greet, Beatrix Potter
Meeting Peter Rabbit
Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out, Lily Bobtail, character meet and greet, Beatrix Potter
Lily Bobtail hugs

In addition to the actual adventure playground itself, the Peter Rabbit theme continues in other parts of the farm too; including indoor imaginative play at Cotton-Tail Village and the outdoor assault course Peter Rabbit Woodland Trail.

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out
Peter Rabbit Woodland Trail

All in all, Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground certainly adds a brilliant new dimension to the overall Willows Farm experience! Entry into Peter Rabbit Adventure playground is included in the general ticket price for Willows Activity Farm, and the cost of this varies throughout the year. See website for further details, and book online to save! 

Three Shells Lagoon, Southend-on-Sea, Essex

Three Shells Lagoon at Southend-on-Sea in Essex is a newly built man made lagoon that opened this summer. The lagoon is the size of a football pitch and is 1.1 metres at its deepest points. 

Swimming at Three Shells Lagoon, Southend on Sea, Essex
Squiggle was laughing at how I reacted to the cold water initially- but she wore a proper wetsuit, I didn’t!

Despite visiting in the last week of September, it was still warm enough to wriggle into our swimsuits and go for a swim. It was cold, but we soon got used to it! Squiggle enjoyed practising her swimming skills in the sea water, as well as paddling and splashing around in general. I think it’s wonderful to be able to enjoy swimming in a natural environment, whilst not being entirely in the open water with an inexperienced young swimmer. I imagine it would also be great for learning water sports.

Swimming at Three Shells Lagoon, Southend on sea, Essex
Three Shells Lagoon

One thing I did wonder about was how the lagoon water is kept fresh and hygenic. So I did some research and found the design quite interesting. “Sheets of welded metal inside the rock walls retain the seawater when the tide comes in, whilst rubberised material at the base of the wall will prevent silt and mud from entering and exiting the lagoon. Valves have been installed into the wall so that the lagoon can be emptied and refilled, ensuring a high quality of regularly-replenished bathing water.” (Southend government website) For further information about the lagoon www.southend.gov.uk

Sylvanian Families: Make Your Own Mole House (Art and Craft Activity)

Squiggle had alot of fun making a Sylvanian Families cardboard mole house using instructions from her Sylvanian Storekeepers catalogue. She loves Sylvanian Families (as I’m sure you may have noticed!) and was very excited to spot this art and craft activity.

First she made the front porch. One of the members from the mole family popped by to check out how their new home was coming along, and brought some Sylvanian friends along too!

Next she built the chimney stack and the other parts of the Sylvanian families house. (Ignore the stray tub of gooseberries photobombing my picture, this is not a poor attempt at product placement, she was just snacking whilst she worked! ;))

Next was the bit Squiggle was most looking forward to… paper mache time! We used wallpaper paste because it tends to do the job more effectively but you can also use glue and water (which also works well, as long as you get the consistency just right) or even just flour and water (but in my experience this method is sometimes abit rubbish, which can be frustrating!) Paper mache is a fun sensory activity for those sensory seekers too, Squiggle loved feeling around in it.

Next came a slight test in patience as Squiggle had to wait for the paper mache to dry before she could get painting it. At this point she decided to let her creative license run loose and chose to make the Sylvanian mole family a beautifully colourful home…

The next part was putting it all together. Somehow I managed to miss getting photos of this stage (I can only assume my camera phone was buried under a pile of cardboard by this point!)

However, here is the finished product…

A wonderful bright new home for her Sylvanian families! 

This was such a fun art and craft project, and it kept Squiggle busy over the course of several days in total. The full guide was in the Sylvanian Storekeepers catalogue but the templates can also be downloaded here.

June Round-Up

Aside from our 30 Days Wild adventures, here are some of the other things we got up to in June…

Played games, indoors and outside…

We had lots of other garden fun too, such as painting with water…

Put on shows with her toys…

Blowing bubbles, and quality time with our pets…

Squiggle also enjoyed celebrating a friend’s birthday…

These are pictures of them celebrating together that she drew for her as a present…

She also wrote a poem about cats…

We had a lovely time at Oaklands College fun day…

She then acted it out the next day at home…

Squiggle’s love of Sylvanian families is well known! She spends alot of time using them for imaginative play; such as pretending they are on holiday at Haven, going to buy ice creams, visiting Peter Rabbit’s adventure playground and at the sylvanian families Whitchurch event meeting sylvanian characters and wearing sylvanian hats like the ones she got! Cute…

She also built them an excellent tree house independently…

Other creative activities included scratch art…

And bubble art…

She did some fun science experiments (details to follow on a separate post!)…

And we also got some cool new hexbug stuff to explore…

Lastly, she had some sensory (and therapeutic!) fun splashing around in water…

30 Days Wild – Day 30: 7 Reasons To Love Nature

Wow, we have come to the final day of 30 Days Wild! So to mark the end, today I thought I would write about why it is great to spend so much time outdoors in nature.

There are so many reasons to love nature! Here are my top 7…

💚
1. Good for the mind: Being outdoors in a natural environment helps our mental health. It reduces anxiety and depression, and generally decreases our stress levels (which brings me nicely onto reason two…)

2. Good for the body: Being outside has physical health benefits. The fresh air is great for our bodies, being outside helps us dose up on much needed vitamin D, walking boosts fitness levels, outdoor activities builds our immune system whilst also improving our sleep, and even our eyesight!

3. Good for the soul: Being in nature encourages organic mindfulness and meditation, which helps us to feel calm, relaxed and happy. Feeling connected to nature and the earth increases empathy for others and helps us to gain inner peace.

4. Sensory activities: Our natural environment offers great sensory input that helps to intergrate our senses and align our central nervous system. This helps us feel more balanced.

5. Helps to develop essential skills needed to learn: Time spent outdoors helps with cognitive thinking, problem solving, attention span and focus.

6. Provides learning opportunities: Being in nature means exploration and real-life firsthand experiences! It leads to many discussions about nature, our environment, the world around us, sustainability, and being a responsible global citizen.

7. Last but not least, nature inspires us and sparks creativity!

💚💚💚
And here are some examples of such inspiration and creativity from Squiggle today…

Squiggle designed a nature game. Take it in turns to roll the dice and move around the board. First to get all the way round is the winner. If someone lands on a challenge square and completes it, that person gets another turn.

These are the player pieces to move around the board…

She also made up a song about nature (I put together the video quickly to match the lyrics, just so I could share the voice recording)…

Stay wild, everyone! 💚

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30 Days Wild- Day 29: International Mud Day

Today is International Mud Day, which is a great one to link up with 30 Days Wild! 
Mud bath, anyone?


Mud has so many wonderful benefits.  It has properties that help us to feel relaxed and happy, even smarter! It connects us to the earth and is a fantastic sensory activity. It is also great for the skin! 

Happy bathing! 

30 Days Wild- Day 3: Grounding

For day 3 of our 30 Days Wild challenge we did something very simple: going barefoot on the grass. This is a lovely sensory experience and is calming to connect to the earth in this way.

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Grounding