Gardening and Its Therapeutic Value

Posted on March 9th, 2013 by Denise | No Comments

Gardening and Its Therapeutic Value


Denise Koonce OTR

Springtime comes with both blessings and a curse.  Spring brings the beauty of nature with its endless array of pastel colors but it also brings that dreaded item, pollen!  Regardless, I love being outdoors and getting my hands dirty especially at spring time.  For me, it is the time to help rejuvenate my attitude and my yard, and then watch the benefits of my endeavors improve as time goes on.  It is my hope and belief that I have passed the love of gardening onto my daughter.   She primarily enjoys planting vegetables, watering them and then once they begin producing, running outside after school to pick the fruits of her labor, especially the tomatoes and peppers.  Gardening provides children an opportunity to experience a multitude of lessons.  They can learn about how food is grown and produced not just purchased from the store.  They can experience beginning a project and seeing it through to completion; the circle of life for plants; experience the responsibility of caring for a living thing as well as the consequences if the responsibility is lax or the rewards of diligent efforts.   Gardening is also an act of patience and can be very therapeutic in nature.   

Gardening comes with an array of wonderful therapeutic opportunities and has been recognized as doing so from ancient times to present.  The more recent term used for therapeutic gardening is horticulture therapy.  The American Horticulture Therapy Association states “Horticultural Therapy helps improve memory, cognitive abilities, task initiation, language skills, and socialization.  In physical rehabilitation, horticultural therapy can help strengthen muscles and improve coordination, balance, and endurance.”  Gardening has been used as a therapeutic tool in physical, occupational and speech settings for years in helping to achieve treatment goals.  So what are some of those therapeutic benefits for the pediatric population?  They can include:

Sensory system:

  1. Tactile – using your hands to move the soil around both dry and wet, experiencing the different textures of the seeds and plants
  2. Proprioception –  input that is received when digging or moving the soil around with both your hands and with tools
  3. Olfactory -experience the different smells of the potting soil, plant fertilizer, flowering plants or herbs. 

Gross Motor Skills

  1. Standing, Stooping, Bending, Squatting, and Quadriped
  2. Transitioning in and out of the above positions
  3. Carrying supplies or a watering can while walking
  4. Balance

Fine Motor Skills

  1. Grasping and Pinching – manipulating the soil with your hands or while utilizing the tools, picking up seeds, pinching off unnecessary plant parts
  2. Bilateral and Bimanual Coordination

Sequencing and Language

  1. Sequencing – following the appropriate steps in order to produce the desired outcome 
  2. Receptive language and following directions – listening to the instructions given and acting on those instructions

This is by no means an exhaustive list of benefits, just a sample of a few.  

Gardening is not limited to the outdoors either, as there are many ways to garden indoors including making simple terrariums or indoor potted plants.  Gardening can also be adapted by making a container garden and having multiple height levels.  If your activity is limited to indoors then make a container garden but place it on wheels for ease of use.  Some additional hints are to consider seeds that are quick to germinate and purchase seeds or plants that are appropriate for the lighting and space you have.  At this time of year, children sized gardening tools are very accessible and if necessary, you can adapt the tools.   

For a fun twist to gardening try ordering “Magic Beans” from Hearth Song, a catalog and online company.  Hearth Song sells a series of beans in which words have been imprinted on the bean.  When the bean germinates and breaks through the soil you can see the imprinted word.  Not only do the children receive the benefits from gardening but they can experience their own bit of magic. 

Gardening is a great opportunity for a therapy team to work with a child across disciplines while using the same therapeutic activity.  What is great about gardening is that even though the team is using the same activity, distinctly different goals are reached.  So, go forth, procure the necessary items and produce your own “magical” garden.  If you have had experience with using gardening and have ideas or stories to share, please do so!

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