If you have kids who love investigating their surroundings, the AHRC Suffolk's sensory garden is a great spot to spend an afternoon. The garden, which opened in May 2017, is a therapeutic environment for residents of Shoreham Homes as well as children and adults of all abilities.
A visit to this unique space is unlike a trip to any park or playground in the area. The garden offers different ways for visitors to interact with the installations and natural settings while inviting them to touch, smell, taste, and play. Admission is FREE.
For more sensory experiences with kids, see our guide to special-needs facilities and programs on Long Island, including our list of inclusive playgrounds that offer more choices for great outdoor fun.
It is believed 1 in 20 children struggle with a sensory processing disorder. This can include sensitivity to loud noises. According to AHRC, more than 90 percent of children and adults with autism experience some form of sensory processing disorder.
For nearly 70 years, the Association for Habilitation and Residential Care has been working to support individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities in Suffolk County. The garden, at the organization's care facility in Shoreham, was created as an environment to stimulate the senses. Visitors can interact in different ways using natural materials and plants to engage touch, sight, smell, taste, and sound.
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Colorful installations allow kids to make sweet-sounding music. Photo by the author
Tucked in the middle of the care facility, the garden beckons with its greenery, flora, and interactive installations. Your sense of sight immediately takes in all that the garden has to offer. From the flowers in bloom and the colorful musical instruments to the giant checkerboard painted on the grass, it's difficult to choose where to begin. If your kids are anything like mine, they'll be drawn to the thing that makes the most noise: In the garden, it's the set of instruments. Drums, a large xylophone, a set of chimes, and a spinning flower make up the sound area. The attached mallets let visitors play loudly or softly.
Follow the red brick path that loops through the garden to allow your senses to experience even more. In the wheelchair-accessible "taste" section of the garden, visitors will find herbs and vegetables growing on raised beds and in small pots hung on a wall. Curious kids can try fresh basil, mint, and cilantro. More cautious children can engage their sense of smell by rubbing the leaves and smelling the fresh scents.
Spin the sensory wheel to experience different textures, including bumpy, rough, soft, and smooth.
Venture further into the garden and you come across a labyrinth made of river rocks. Slip off your shoes to fully experience reflexology as you walk the path of the labyrinth. Discover the large-scale sensory wheel. The surface of this elevated wheel is covered with rocks and shells of different textures. Spin the wheel to experience bumpy, rough, soft, and smooth sensations. Over on the grassy area is a covered sensory sand table that employs sight and touch to dig through the sand for objects hidden inside.
In warm summer months, a water feature provides cool relief. The structure is made to look like a palm tree with large leaves that "rain" down and delight those who don't mind getting a little wet. Bring towels or a change of clothes if you go on a hot day. A covered picnic area with tables also provides shade and a spot for a snack or quick lunch. Just outside of this area is a portable toilet that is in service when the park is open.
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Kids can enjoy a game of lawn checkers on the grass-like surface.
Green space sits In the middle of the garden. What looks like grass is artificial turf that provides a nice, soft spot to sit down and watch the clouds roll by or play a game of checkers on the giant checkerboard. Kids can challenge each other to a game of tic-tac-toe using painted rocks
Smell, touch, feel, and even taste the beautiful greenery in the garden. Photo by the author
All around the garden are flowering plants, greenery, and trees that provide shade. Visitors are free to experience everything in the garden at their own pace and comfort level. Even with kids running around and playing, the garden feels calm and relaxing, and is worth a visit if you're near Suffolk County.
The AHRC Suffolk's sensory garden is located at 283 Route 25A in Shoreham. It 13 miles north of the Long Island Expressway Exit 68 (William Floyd Parkway) North. Although the address is Route 25A, turn onto Defense Hill Road to enter the parking lot. The park is open to the public seven days a week from Memorial Day to the end of October.
Photos courtesy of AHRC Suffolk unless noted.