A sensory STEM (science, technology, engineering and medicine) garden was recently officially opened at the University of Pretoria’s Mamelodi Campus by Professor Themba Mosia, Interim UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal. Prof Mosia and Prof Ntebogeng Mokgalaka-Fleischmann, Director of the Mamelodi Campus, planted two fruit trees during the event.
The project was the initiative of Dr Carin Combrinck of UP’s Department of Architecture; Ms Helga Lister, the driving force behind UP’s Siyathemba Clinic in Mamelodi; and Dr Lelanie Smith, Head of Community-based Projects within UP’s Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and IT. Dr Martina Jordaan, Head: Community-based Research and Postgraduate Studies at UP, coordinated the project from the Mamelodi Campus. Solomon Makganelisa and Jack Thobakgale ensure the maintenance of the garden.
From left to right at the official opening of the garden are Prof Ntebogeng Mokgalaka-Fleischmann, Director Mamelodi campus, Anri Engelbrecht, JCP-student Queen Timane, JCP student, Prof Themba Mosia, UP Interim Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Ms Sharne Mokhethi, Project Administrator: Community-based Project Module, Dr Martina Jordaan, Head: Community Engagement Research and Postgraduate Studies Mamelodi campus and Ms Bonolo Mokoka, Lecturer: Community-based Project Module.
“Sensory gardens include features, surfaces, objects and plants that stimulate our senses through touch, sight, scent, taste and hearing,” Dr Jordaan said. “Such gardens help to improve the health, mood and cognition of those who visit them, and provide space for physical activity. Gardening and plant care help children develop gross and fine motor skills. Spending time outdoors, breathing fresh air and being exposed to sunlight are good for their overall physical health.”
Sensory gardens are also valuable educational tools. “As part of their development it is important to introduce children from a young age onwards to concepts in the STEM fields, which refer to ideas in science, technology, engineering and medicine.”
Other collaborators also contributed to the project, including the USA-South Africa Higher Education Network (US-SA HEN) grant, which played a vital role in the initial stages, providing support for the training of 28 early childhood development (ECD) practitioners.
The sensory STEM garden serves as a valuable resource for various students, including those from the Faculty of Health Sciences, Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and IT, and ECD students, providing a platform for ECD practitioner training. Its integration into the Mamelodi Campus’s Extended Curriculum Programme has also added an extra layer of enrichment to the academic offerings.
The garden is designed to be a dynamic space for interdisciplinary research, catering to learners in the ECD phase, individuals with special educational needs, and the elderly. “The immersive sensory environment benefits all of them,” Dr Jordaan said. “To amplify the impact of this space, students from all disciplines are invited to channel their creativity into projects that empower the local community.”
During the official opening the garden’s sponsors, including the US-SA HEN grant, UP’s Merensky Library, and the Goethe Institute, were thanked for their unwavering support in making this endeavour a reality.