Students add play items to Lycoming County Sensory Garden

This summer, members of the Student Occupational Therapy Assistant Club at Pennsylvania College of Technology contributed their expertise to outfit a new play structure at the Lycoming County Sensory Garden.

A wooden “teepee” was added to the garden in 2018 by Montoursville Area High School junior Colton Ulmer as part of his Eagle Scout requirements. It is framed by debarked white pine poles, and the walls are made of hemlock slabs. Working with input from garden volunteers, Ulmer planned the structure for easy accessibility by wheelchairs and with large windows that allow parents to see what’s happening inside. Ulmer’s work, completed with the help of 12 volunteers, took 283 hours.

The Penn College students added objects to the structure to help gently engage the senses. Wooden wind chimes softly stimulate hearing. Drums allow children to explore sound and vibration. Sensory bottles are filled with items that encourage visitors to look and listen to what’s inside, and to feel their varied weights. Ribbons, hung near a window where they are blown by the wind, provide another source of texture and color.

The Sensory Garden is a project of Lycoming County Master Gardeners, a program of the Penn State Extension service. The public garden is at the county’s Lysock View Complex. It is designed to be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities, who are welcome to not only look and listen to the garden’s bounty, but also to touch its elements.

With the new structure in place, the Master Gardeners sought to outfit it with play items.

Ulmer is a member of Boy Scout Troop 26, Hughesville, for which Jeanne Kerschner, director of Penn College’s occupational therapy assistant program, is a board member. When asked to help enhance the new teepee with sensory items, Kerschner suggested getting Penn College occupational therapy assistant students involved.

Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants help people with physical, developmental and psychosocial challenges learn how to use adaptive techniques and equipment to participate in the daily activities they need and want to do.

“When I heard about it, I thought it was a great opportunity for all three groups (Boy Scouts, Master Gardeners and Penn College students) to work together,” Kerschner said. “We’re helping individuals to be able to use all their senses in a calming, relaxing way and to integrate it into the surroundings.”

The student club intends to make it an ongoing project, with plans to add more sensory play items in the future.

“It’s an ideal combination — occupational therapy and the Sensory Garden,” said Linda Betts, master gardener, who said the group is always interested in partnering with other agencies to expand its reach.

Since building began in 2015, the garden has benefited from five Eagle Scout projects, as well as the craftsmanship of Penn College building construction students, who built a wall and raised beds.

In addition to being well-used by children, the garden has been the site of weddings performed by magisterial district Judge Gary Whiteman, whose office is housed in the adjacent building.

“The garden is public property,” Betts said. “It’s always open, and it’s free.”