Make: A Mini Winter Sensory Garden for Kids

‘Tis the season to be…stressed? Resist, friends! I may be in the minority here, but winter is quite possibly my favorite season of them all, and too wonderful to rush through feeling frazzled and fatigued! As an added holiday stress bummer: your kids can suck that nervous energy up like a sponge.

Of all of our posts, our magic zen jar tutorial has been the most shared (over 50K!) affirming that simple ideas for finding calm are more sought after than ever. If you’re looking for a moment (or two…or three) of zen, to help you and your kiddos chill out, calm the breath, regain focus and find your family bliss, here’s another tool to keep in your arsenal. In no time at all, with things you can easily find at home, you and your kids can build a mini winter sensory garden that doubles as a lesson in meditation and mindfulness.  

This fun little winter sensory garden for kids combines Montessori-style exploration and mindful play and quiet exercises in meditation. | via barley & birch

The feel of the “snow” and needles on fingertips, the smell of fresh pine, the sight of something reflected in a “frozen pond” and the sound of winter…quiet. This peaceful wintry tray provides an opportunity to quietly explore, slowly becoming still with one’s thoughts and surroundings.

This week, we are exploring and celebrating winter-themed Montessori learning. In addition to being a useful meditation prop, this sensory tray is a great introduction to the methods and objectives of Montessori learning. 

This fun little winter sensory garden for kids combines Montessori-style exploration and mindful play and quiet exercises in meditation. | via barley & birch

Much like our winter Montessori practical skill activity collection, this sensory tray encourages so many of the practices and goals of Montessori learning. Developing a calm focus while working independently. Establishing a mind-body connection and learning how to use that to build insight and personal awareness. Stimulating creativity, and bringing a sensory of order and harmony to a child’s work. All that and it’s adorable too!

Put a holiday spin on this with our DIY tabletop Christmas tree farm – another simple, snowy, and sensory-filled playscape!

To make your own DIY winter sensory garden you’ll need:

Note: We prefer to shop locally or use what we have at home, but this list contains a few Woodpeckers Crafts and/or Amazon affiliate links for reference. As Amazon Associates, we make a small commission on qualifying purchases.*

BASIC SUPPLIES:

  • A Tray
  • Some natural materials & clippings gathered from outside – twigs, pine branches, pinecones, rocks, etc.
  • Baking soda, polyfill, or your favorite “snow” material (I used baking soda for this tray, but also used this kind of faux snow for our pine tree farm sensory tray – it’s non-toxic & biodegradable!).

OPTIONAL SUPPLIES:

  • A few drops of diluted non-toxic food-grade oils (this is a great relaxation aid and so easy to mix into the baking soda)
  • A mirror or tin foil (the perfect frozen pond)
  • Pom poms (these became our snowballs)
  • A Pipe cleaner (this is what we used to make our rake)
  • Playdough or clay (to make a snowman as we did, or…anything!)

DIY kids mini winter sensory garden instructions

  1. Gather the winter sensory garden supplies

    The first step is deciding what materials you want to use. Will you gather them together outside (our DIY shoebox nature explorer’s kit is a great way to collect your supplies)? Will you set up the tray together or just provide the items? The supplies for our DIY kids winter sensory garden arranged on a white background

  2. Design and arrange!

    Will you use 1 or 2 elements, or combine quite a few as I did? The wonderful thing about this activity is that it’s extremely flexible  – there are literally endless options. You’ll find it comes fairly naturally to want to explore a variety of activities, approaches, and layouts.
    This fun wintry little invitation to create combines Montessori-style exploration and mindful play and quiet exercises in meditation. | via barley & birch

Winter Garden Sensory Play Activities

More than anything, this wintry tray was put together to inspire some self-soothing practice. Just like the season itself, quiet accompanies this activity so well. The tactile qualities of each item provide quite a bit of sensory stimulation on their own, but you can also try turning on some quiet relaxation music or recordings of winter sounds (snow falling, a fire crackling).

While arranging or playing in their garden, some kids may enjoy telling you a story or having a calming conversation. If you notice their focus shifting away from exploring the garden, you can begin trying some visualization. Ask them to close their eyes and imagine walking – the sound of the wind, the crunching of the snow – just letting their mind wander quietly through the garden. You can ask them where they’re going, what they’re seeing, or what they’re feeling, then give them a few minutes to think in silence.

This fun wintry little invitation to create combines Montessori-style exploration and mindful play and quiet exercises in meditation. | via barley & birch

Beyond meditation and mindful, quiet play our magical little winter sensory garden can be used for finger-drawing or as a fun, themed means of practicing sorting with pom-pom “snowballs” of different sizes. Tongs or chopsticks can be used to move or transfer items into the garden (wonderful fine motor skill practice!) Making a snowman out of playdough or clay is a fun way to learn about sizes (make large, medium, and small-sized balls!) and practice stacking and balance. Even gathering the natural materials you’d like to use can become its own activity and exercise in observation.

This fun little winter sensory garden for kids combines Montessori-style exploration and mindful play and quiet exercises in meditation. | via barley & birch

And of course…no winter garden would be complete without a woodland creature or two wandering through! 😉 This garden can provide the perfect opportunity for kids to learn about animals who live in chillier climates – their winter habits and habitats.

This fun wintry little invitation to create combines Montessori-style exploration and mindful play and quiet exercises in meditation. | via barley & birch

I have to tell you…I STILL have this little set up sitting in the living room by the Christmas tree and have actually had many quiet moments of fun making trails in the snow and rearranging my winter tableau…winter zen gardens aren’t strictly for kids! I could swear I can feel my blood pressure dropping even just revisiting the pictures…:-)

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If you have some awesome ideas for your winter sensory tray, or have made them before and have a secret or two to share, be sure to leave them in the comments below!


*A note about affiliate links: We strive to use simple, earth-friendly supplies that can be purchased locally whenever we can, but sometimes we find the best universally available options, a rare eco-friendly find, or a niche product only available on Amazon or Woodpeckers Crafts. When included in our supply list, these products are affiliate links, and if you click-through to make a purchase we receive a small commission that helps us re-order these supplies!

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Amanda E.
With a passion for cultivating imagination, Amanda aims to help kids and families discover their creative potential through art, play, adventure, activism, conservancy, and community. Amanda has a background in graphic design, environmental design, and art curation. When not playing with ideas and designs for barley & birch, she enjoys working in freelance design, art, and illustration.

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