Sensory Garden Encourages Students With Differing Abilities to Discover the Joy of Music-Making

We recently checked back with Grove Park Community Special School to see how their outdoor musical instruments are utilized.

In 2016 Tricia Gray, Trustee of Grove Park Charitable Trust, set out to fundraise on behalf of Grove Park Community Special School to develop the outdoor space at its Primary School site. The school in East Sussex is located towards the north of the county and has a wide catchment area. Around 140 children are based on three sites that support pupils with complex needs, including those with profound, severe, and moderate learning difficulties, Autistic Spectrum Disorders, and sensory needs.

Over the last few years, the school received funds from the charity to build a large adventure park that includes climbing frames and trails and a garden area with polytunnels for pupils from the 6th form to develop work experience skills. Younger pupils also use the area and the adjoining Forest School, which comes to learn and play outside.

The pupils at school love to play musical instruments, and the staff were anxious to include the ability to use instruments outdoors. Tricia contacted Percussion Play and liaised with its co-founder, Robin Ashfield, about what instruments would be most beneficial to the students.

Tricia says, “Robin really understood what the children would benefit from and explained why instruments such as the Duo could be so positive for people with Autism. He explained the tone of the instruments and advised which would go best in our Sensory Garden. Robin and the entire team were incredibly helpful, and we’re delighted with how inclusive the instruments are”.

As well as the Duo xylophone, the Sensory Garden includes the Soprano Quartet and Tubular Bells with the Pentatonic Symphony Freechmes located in the sandpit. The children are encouraged to use the instruments when they visit the sensory garden. As well as the sound they make, the children enjoy touching the instruments and exploring the different finishes. Tricia says, “The tone of the instruments help to create a mellow and calming environment; even when being played loudly, they are delightful to listen to.”

Tricia also noted that the instruments have been in situ for some years and still look as good as new.

Outdoor learning can make for happier, healthier, well-rounded children and students – particularly those with disabilities. However, practitioners looking for innovative ideas and activities that engage all pupils and children sometimes need more active, out-of-the-box ideas. Outdoor musical instruments are an excellent solution - combining music and the great outdoors to fire creativity and sensory stimulation with building the independence and well-being of pupils. Music-making on large outdoor instruments helps children develop various skills, such as coordination, balance, sensory play, turn-taking, and more, and the outdoor environment is often less overwhelming for those with noise sensitivities.