Gardening has proven to be beneficial in more than just one way for people with special needs. Horticulture Therapy as it is referred to, supports various aspects of an individual’s
personal growth. As we have discussed before in our blogs, mental health and physical
health go hand in hand and at The Owl House gardening has definitely helped us reap all the benefits.
Let us take a look into one of our learner’s gardening expedition at The Owl House. When supporting a person with special needs, it is of utmost importance to be consistent in working on strength areas and guiding the areas that require a little extra support.
At The Owl House, one of our participants has grown a self watering mustard plant with his learning facilitator and has thrown himself into caring for it. Small steps go a long way!
Based on his commitment, it was mutually agreed that he would make the time once a week when he comes in to The Owl House, to check on his plant, nurture it and record it’s progress.
When we look at the big picture, we see an individual with special needs learning about gardening and the life cycle of plants. But if we were to dig a bit deeper, we would notice so many tiers of skill development and learning of daily life concepts.
It is easier for people with special needs to focus all of their attention on something that is right in front of them. Visualizing or imagining the future is often challenging. Gardening offers the amazing opportunity to see and document changes over a period of time and each time you go back to a garden a new and beautiful sight awaits you. Observing the changes happening over time in nature contributes to that bigger picture that you as a caregiver may foresee.
For instance, the individual you see below in the picture noticed his plant had sprouted within the past week when he first sowed the seed.
What are the benefits?
A few areas of daily life for people with special needs that are directly impacted with an activity like gardening would include the following:
1. Responsibility - Caring for a living organism, perhaps a favourite plant in the garden, can teach an individual infinitely more than caring for an inanimate object. Children learn about cause and effect relationships ( for eg. Without water, my plant will die), their role as a caregiver and countless other life lessons in a safe and pleasant space.
2. Patience - Caring for plants and watching them slowly bloom can sometimes be a lengthy process. It teaches people with special needs to be patient to see the end result and they can also refer to the timeline they have set for the goals.
3. Accountability- Being a bit different from ‘responsibility’, this part makes the individual the sole person answerable for the process of growing a plant in the garden.
4. Routine - Understanding that routine is often important for people with special needs. Having a schedule works as a motivator.
5. Empathy - Building empathy skills through gardening would involve caring and nurturing, understanding and relating needs like watering the plants or watching the growth would help understand the cycle of life from a different perspective.
6. Physical and mental health - Along with being a physical activity, gardening has been proven to improve the overall mental health by helping with anxiety, depression. As it is claimed, working in nature (even your garden counts!) increases the level of dopamine and serotonin (hormones responsible for making us feel happy)2.
7. Motor skills - Working with plants in the garden, raking leaves, watering the plants, pulling weeds all support the development and/or improvement of fine and gross motor skills.
8. Nutrition - Learning about the nutritional values of different plants and seeds during gardening is an added bonus.
9. Sensory stimulation - Think of all senses (touch,taste,smell,seeing,hearing) that are stimulated when working in the garden ex. Touching different textures of leave, tasting herbs planted, smelling different flowers, seeing different colors in flowers, trees, buds, insects etc., and hearing various birds around you in the garden.’
10. Social interaction - When individuals work in small groups, gardening can become a conversation starter. Discussing about their plant, difference and similarities can encourage interactions amongst peers.
"All the flowers of tomorrow are in the seeds of today”
Native Indian proverb
Gardening can be a great way for you and the individual with special needs that you support. Other than being an individual learning experience it can always be a fun activity to do in a group/pair. A small step together, with the person you support, in your garden can be a great start to connect with nature.
We tend to get busy with our lives and work that we sometimes overlook the nature around us. A small garden in the backyard or a plant in the balcony is the first step you can take towards something beautiful.
“Nature is the free therapy that we can all benefit from”
QUIZ (Let’s see if you and the individual you support can name or identify the following - tools/items/processes from the garden and what their significance is):
Did you or the person you support learn something new? Have you already used some of the tools from the quiz? Share with us how the pictures initiated conversations with the individual you support in the comments section.
We are rooting for you!
Answers to the picture quiz:
Image 1. Hose
Image 2. Watering can
Image 3. Hand Shovel
Image 4. Rake
Image 5. Mulch
Image 6. Birdhouse
Image 7. Weeding
Image 8. Seeding
Image 9. Sprouting Bud
Image 10. Honey Bee on a flower