AdventHealth builds Sensory Garden at B.E. Smith Family Center

The Kyla Y. Hartong Memorial Sensory Garden encourages children of all abilities to experience the sensory aspects of gardening.

For nearly 50 years, the Britain Development program at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission has been helping Kansas City area families through developmental services for kids with a variety of special needs. Educators and therapists continually look for innovative and fun educational opportunities for children in their programs. Their latest tool is a new sensory garden. Thanks to support from generous donors through AdventHealth Foundation Shawnee Mission, the hospital was able to build a beautiful garden on the grounds of the B.E. Smith Family Center, which is located on the AdventHealth Shawnee Mission campus and houses the Britain Development and Early Learning programs.

The Kyla Y. Hartong Memorial Sensory Garden is a beautiful 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 water land as it’s poured, and tasting fruits and vegetables. 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, as well as a mud kitchen with water tables.

The garden includes a wheelchair accessible garden bed.

“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,” said Amy Milroy, Director of B.E. Smith Family Center. “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.

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 incredible 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,” said Milroy. “Thousands of children and their families living in Kansas City 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.”

Not long after the sensory garden was unveiled, Britain Development staff worked with Johnson County Parks and Recreation to introduce Sensory Friendly Mondays at the Johnson County Museum. Taking place on the first Monday of each month from 9 am to noon, Sensory Friendly Mondays are sessions specifically designed for children with sensory processing differences and autism spectrum disorders. More information can be found at

To learn more about Britain Development, visit