Garden Forever
Kids Take Time to Grow by Nancy Wood

Children with various disabilities find satisfaction and meaning in the magical transformaiton of seeds into snow peas, flowers - and beets

David scratched the moist soil with his usual intensity when doing things he liked, in the steady April drizzle outside the school. He wanted to plant peas, watch them grow and show his dad that he could "grow things." I had forgotten to bring something to dig with, but he couldn't wait, using a nearby stick and then his bare hands to prepare a space for his seeds. He continued to be distracted by many things, such as bugs, rocks or a passing truck, when going out to check on their progress. But, on his last day of school in June, David harvested his snow peas with a beaming smile, to share with his friends, but mostly to take home to show his dad.

Another boy, John, had been keeping his distance from any suggested activity, until he was asked what his favourite vegetable was, and then, would he like to grow it from seed? His attitude changed immediately to keen interest. Not only was he motivated, but he also became committed to watering his and other students' seedlings regularly, then transplanting them two months later in the outside garden. As Stephen has been away all summer, I can imagine his look of surprise when he sees beets the size of baseballs (his favourite game!) this month.

Attention deficit disorder, cognitive disabilities, emotional difficulties, autism and significant developmental delay have not prevented many of the children at the Muki Baum Children's Centre in North York, Ont., from getting involved in this garden project in a meaningful way. The aptitude and interest shown by many of the students who discovered their "green thumbs" could not have been predicted until they got in touch with the soil or the activity. This was especially true of a variety of teenage boys.

More than 25 students have participated in various stages of the garden project from March to July this year. They range in chronological age from 8 to 21 years and have been involved either individually or in small class groupings. The approach with the garden has ranged from educational to vocational to therapeutic, usually including more than one focus at the same time.

The project was organized by a committee of interested staff (job coach, teacher specialist, classroom assistant) and myself as coordinator. We were able to get approval and a modest startup budget from management and the ongoing assistance of the school caretaker. A variety of flowers, vegetables and herbs were grown, including sunflowers, marigolds, daisies, forget-me-nots, nicotiana, alyssum, peppers, beans, tomatoes, carrots, chives, parsley and garlic, to name a few! Regular maintenance with weeding and watering was done by staff and students attending the summer program.

For these students, there is something immediately gratifying and concrete in caring for a living plant, from seed to fruit. There are many sensory experiences that give them meaningful feedback in touch, smell, taste and sound. The "grounding" effect of lifting and turning the earth and carrying heavy buckets of water is very beneficial to many of these students as they experience meaningful work. They can see the positive results of their efforts right away when they water and weed; and learn patience and faith in waiting for the harvest.

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Nancy Wood has kindly allowed us to reprint part of the original article appearing in the Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association Newsletter, October 1998.

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