Children with special needs require a bit more attention and care when it comes to their health and development. Without it, their social, physical, and cognitive development will suffer. It is a parent’s job to find activities that efficiently stimulate their minds and bodies in order for them to grow up and be as healthy and happy as they can be. Gardening is a fun and creative way that parents can encourage their children to get outside and do something that has benefits for both their physical and mental wellbeing.

Social Development
For children with special needs, social interactions can oftentimes be something that they dread and find much difficulty with. Sadly, some children are even purposefully left out of many social situations which can have a drastic negative impact on their social development. Involving everyone in a community gardening project or even starting an at home garden gives children with special needs a space to work on their verbal and nonverbal communication skills. They also develop a sense of situational awareness as they learn what to do and what not to do when gardening with specific plants. They learn to watch where they step. They learn how to nurture and care for a plant and the consequences of failing to do so. Having a safe space to practice all these things and learn all these skills helps them as they transfer the same skills to the real world. When it comes to interacting with their peers, they now have much more confidence and a better understanding of the actions and consequences they learned during their time gardening. As a result, the connections and friendships that they will form will have a much more solid foundation.

Physical Development
Gardening is a great form of exercise that is able to work out all parts of the body. It gets children outdoors, where they can dig in the dirt, stretch, and lift. For children with physical disabilities, traditional forms of exercise may be difficult. They can’t do the same things as other children like participating in sports and other activities that children enjoy. With gardening, children’s needs are able to be met where they are at. If they have a disability or special need that inhibits any form of movement or action, there are specialized equipment and tools that will be able to help meet that need. This inclusivity allows for everyone to be able to enjoy an activity that is able to help with their physical development.

Cognitive Development
Children with certain special needs that impair their cognitive function have a much more difficult time functioning independently in society. The world is stressful enough for people who don’t suffer from any sort of special need. It is hard to imagine how difficult it is for a child to go through the struggles of life while dealing with some sort of physical, cognitive, or social need. These disabilities can exasperate an already tense situation. It may be hard to believe this, but gardening can help lessen some of that tension and anxiety. It is relaxing; it helps to calm children down and refocus their minds. It hits that much needed refresh button in their brain that they can’t reach themselves.

Getting Started
When starting, make sure to consider any disabilities and gather the right equipment and tools. For example, for children who may have a more difficult time moving around and bending down, consider looking into raised garden beds. When it comes to plant selection, look into things that are easier to take care of. It can also be beneficial to look into plants that have distinct sensory or textural qualities. This can help to capture children’s attention and engage all of their senses. If there are any other questions or uncertainties, don’t be afraid to ask questions! Not only will this encourage children to seek out help when they need it, it also helps to ensure that you are doing things the most efficient way. Local gardening groups are a great source of information and would be happy to help out in any way they can.

 

By Anthony Bui

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