Grant funds new sensory garden

Keystone Behavioral Services has broken ground on a new sensory garden, with a grant it was awarded March 2015 from the HEAL Foundation. The garden is the vision of Sam Bean, MOTR/L, assistant director of Keystone’s Occupational Therapy Department, and Dawn Berg, BCaBA, director of the Feeding Disorders Department, who wanted an outdoor space for the children and community that would enhance learning and therapy.

Staff has been busy clearing the land and building retaining walls for the new Keystone Sensory Garden.

Staff has been busy clearing the land and building retaining walls for the new Keystone Sensory Garden.

Staff volunteers have begun clearing land and building retaining walls. Next the staff will prepare the soil and choose plants that will appeal to all five senses. The goal is to have Keystone Sensory Garden planted and growing sometime this summer to offer a richer and more therapeutic experience to children with special needs.

“A sensory garden offers the children we serve many benefits,” Berg. “The children take pride in their work and gain a sense of responsibility, plus working in the garden helps reduce stress, anxiety and frustration. It’s a natural learning environment,” she said.

The garden enhances math, science, health, writing/language arts and social studies concepts taught in Keystone Child Development Center and Keystone Academy students.

It also offers therapeutic value for all children served by Keystone Behavioral Services, many of whom face behavioral challenges such as ADHD, autism, cerebral palsy, speech/language disorders, Down Syndrome, feeding disorders, or brain injury, for example.

“The children have been very curious about the garden,” Bean said. “Their education has been inside and in a relatively sterile environment, so we’re all very excited that they will be able to interact with nature and learn outside.”

“In addition to improving fine and gross motor skills, working in the garden encourages communication and increases social skills. One student even went out of his way to thank the volunteers for helping in the garden,” Bean said.

Four types of plants will be included in the Keystone Sensory Garden: tactile plants such as Touch Me Not with leaves that fold inward and droop when touched or shaken and Lamb’s Ear with a silvery grey foliage that is soft and fuzzy; olfactory plants such as rosemary and cilantro; visual plants such as hibiscus and coleus; and gustatory plants such as lemons and peppers. Staff hopes to add special features such as wind chimes, a birdhouse, hummingbird feeder and a water feature.

The concept of a sensory garden is based on clinical research. One article, “Gardening as therapy for children with behavioral disorders” written by Marilyn McGinnis, BSN, RN, and published in the Vol. 2, Issue 3, pages 87-91, September 1989 issue of Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, reports that in addition to the physical benefits the children received from the garden, they also were able to discuss “feelings of fear, sadness, abandonment and pride, as well as family issues” (91).

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