For more than 50 years, the Britain Development program at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission in Merriam, Kansas, United States, has been helping Kansas City area families by providing therapeutic and educational services for young children with disabilities. Educators and therapists continually look for innovative and fun educational opportunities for children in their programs.
One important tool is the Kyla Y. Hartong Memorial Sensory Garden, a beautiful and accessible space that encourages children of all abilities to experience the sensory aspects of gardening, such as touching the dirt and plants, smelling the herbs, hearing the sounds of water, and tasting fruits and vegetables.
The sensory garden, which sits on the grounds of the B.E. Smith Family Center in the AdventHealth Shawnee Mission campus where the Britain Development and Early Learning programs are located, was created thanks to the support from generous donors through AdventHealth Foundation Kansas City. The garden includes a wheelchair accessible garden bed handcrafted by Raymond LaRocque of Accessible Gardens in Rhode Island. LaRocque refused to let his need for a wheelchair deprive him of his passion for gardening. The space also features a vine house where kids can relax, wooden activity tables for snacks, art, and science projects, a music area, a climbing structure for motor exploration, and a mud kitchen with water tables.
“By playing with dirt and water, children develop their sensory systems as well as skills related to imagination, play, friendships, cognitive development, and problem solving,” Amy Milroy, director of the B.E. Smith Family Center, said. “We’ve created a space where kids can make their own creations and explore textures by using natural materials like rocks, sticks, and leaves.”
The garden is a great way for staff at B.E. Smith Family Center to teach kids skills like cooking and growing food and to encourage them to try new foods.
Two Special Benches
Music therapy plays an important role at the center as well. The music area of the sensory garden features unique outdoor musical instruments such as the babel drum, cavatina, emperor chimes, and cherub. These instruments were carefully selected to produce high-quality sounds while ensuring children of all abilities can easily enjoy them.
The music area also features two special benches to honor two outstanding women, Lee Ann Britain and Candy Seltman, who built the Britain Development and Early Learning programs from the ground up.
“Lee Ann was truly a pioneer, and we are so grateful for all she did to build our program,” Milroy said. “Thousands of children and their families will be forever changed thanks to her contributions. And like Lee Ann, Candy is a trailblazer. She committed more than 40 years of her life to our Early Learning program and will be forever recognized as the program’s founder and most influential leader.”
AdventHealth leaders said they are grateful for the Toshi A. Kumar Garden Care Endowed Fund, which provides annual resources for the maintenance of and education occurring at the sensory garden. The fund was established in 2021 in memory of Toshi A. Kumar, a beloved son, brother, husband, and friend who passed away at the age of 39. Kumar adored children, and his wish to start a family was left unfulfilled. His spirit and memory are preserved and celebrated through the children who play and learn in the beautiful and well-maintained sensory garden at the B.E. Smith Family Center.
The Britain Development program at B.E. Smith Family Center has touched the lives of more than 5,000 children with special needs since 1972.