This article is written by Geraldine Earl. All content provided is for informational purposes only. Always adapt and apply suggestions based on your child’s needs.
Gardening has long been regarded as a therapeutic activity. Research has shown that handling different plants and flowers has beneficial effects on both physical and mental health.
Now, gardening is also widely recognized as a tool to help people with disabilities and special needs develop vital skills and promote their overall well-being.
In fact, there is an entire field dedicated to this work, and it is known as horticultural therapy. Naturally, this field covers children with special needs as well, as they also have much to gain from gardening projects. Take a look at what children will learn from working with plants.
Social development through gardening
Children with special needs may have few opportunities for social interactions, but an activity like community gardening can address that concern while also improving their communication skills.
A National Taiwan University study reveals that outdoor activities can promote speaking abilities and speech content in children on the autism spectrum, due to the fact that many outdoor elements can rouse their curiosity. These skills will help kids interact with other people, thereby opening up opportunities to form relationships. Having friends is healthy of course, as this can help boost the self-confidence of special needs youngsters.
Physical benefits of gardening
Most sports may not be practical for children with certain disabilities. Fortunately, gardening is a worthy alternative. It helps kids improve their motor skills, such as balance, body coordination, and mobility. Planting can stimulate the muscles, as kids will bend, pull, stretch, lift, and much more.
Additionally, the outdoors can also encourage children to explore their senses: seeing a variety of plants, hearing leaves rustle, touching soil, or smelling flowers. Some kids might have extreme responses to outdoor elements, but with repeated exposure and guidance, these responses may decrease. For example, a child with autism may learn to touch grass without eliciting extreme reactions if he spends enough time outdoors.
When designing gardens for kids with special needs, the particular disability should be considered. For instance, children with sensory sensitivities may benefit from sensory gardens, which focus on textures, smells, and sounds. A lot of thought should also go into the plant selection, as there are plants that grow thorns or have poisonous properties.
Cognitive skills tapped with gardening
The majority of the benefits brought about by gardening fall under cognitive development. Studies have shown that outdoor exposure can improve concentration among children with ADHD. Meanwhile, others also prove that horticultural therapy has had a hand in the improvement of understanding and acquiring knowledge among children with special needs.
At the very basic level, however, first-hand experiences of the outdoors can teach all children to learn more about the world, encourage active learning, and help them focus their attention. In an interview with Tootsa, garden designer Sophy Lennon advises designing activities alongside gardening that can boost the cognitive development that children gain from being outside.
Since it is in children’s nature to explore, they may enjoy playing “I Spy” games or referring to nature spotting books. The key is to help them appreciate different plants and animals and learn more about them.
Regulating emotions through gardening
The charm of gardening lies in its capability of connecting people to nature. The fresh air, sunlight, gentle breeze, and green plants can have a relaxing effect. Therefore, sensory gardens have a therapeutic impact on children with special needs.
Some kids may feel more stressed than others because of the weight of their disabilities. This is where gardening can come in to reduce their feelings of tension. It can also teach them patience and delayed gratification since plants take time to grow.
Before introducing your child to gardening, remember that it will take a lot of planning. The disabilities would first have to be assessed before you can let your child roam free in the backyard. In general, children with special needs would need a safe and well-planned outdoor environment for them to truly develop their skills.
While you are making plans for the perfect garden, adults can keep busy indoors too!
Geraldine Earl is a garden designer who’s worked on numerous projects involving children with special needs. Her conversations with the families have led her to pursue continuous research on garden therapy and how it can help people with disabilities. She has been in the field for 6 years.