Sensory Play: Mini Zen Garden for Kids

Jul 2, 2014

Today we're creating a miniature Zen garden for children to enjoy as a calming form of sensory play.

A traditional zen garden is commonly known as a Japanese garden or rock garden. It is a man-made, miniature landscape designed to represent the essence of nature. It's generally composed of rocks, shrubs, moss, small trees and water features. The landscape is set in a base of sand or gravel which is raked to imitate ripples on water. The true purpose of a zen garden is to serve as a gazing point while meditating. The purpose of our tiny zen garden is to provide children with a small world that encourages the exploration of a variety of natural materials through relaxing, quiet play.

To create our zen garden, you'll need:

  • shallow tray
  • sand
  • polished rocks
  • seashells
  • small pieces of tree bark (found on the ground, never removed from a living tree)
  • small twigs (which can serve as rakes)
  • craft sticks (for smoothing the sand)

Assembling our zen garden:

We began by pouring our white beach sand into a small wooden tray.

The children spent several minutes exploring the soft fine sand, running their hands through it and sifting the tiny grains with their fingers.

Then we used craft sticks to smooth the sand into an even layer, and we began arranging our natural elements. Older children can arrange their elements in distinct groupings, but younger children can create designs and patterns with their pieces.

Here, we were experimenting with patterning.

The children can make tracks in the sand with their fingers and they can trace paths around the shells and stones with their twigs. The play was very quiet as the girls concentrated on the placement of their designs and their tracings.

They spent ages playing with all of the bits and pieces, arranging them just so, and then removing them to smooth the sand and begin again.

Playing with items from nature can be so soothing. The neutral colours of the stones, shells and bark are easy on the eye, and the sound of the polished rocks and shells clicking together are so relaxing.

Our miniature zen garden isn't just for kids. I've left mine displayed on a table in the sitting area of our deck for my teenagers and husband and I to dabble with. It's a wonderfully therapeutic activity that ages can enjoy.

Article Author Jackie Currie
Jackie Currie

Read more from Jackie here.

Jackie Currie is a mother, daycare provider, and the creative spirit behind the blog Happy Hooligans. A self-proclaimed glitterphobe, she specializes in easy, affordable arts & crafts and good, old-fashioned play.