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Unsted Park students take part in "Garden Project"...

Unsted Park School is a specialist school for students with a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome, high functioning autism and associated disorders, aged from 7 to 19 years old. The school offers a unique integration of education, care and therapy to young people with a variety of complex needs.The majority of students at the school have sensory processing and motor skills difficulties.

The Occupational Therapy (OT) team use an array of treatment approaches to target children’s’ sensory and motor difficulties. As a result of these difficulties, the OT team wanted to introduce a range of leisure activities that had the potential to improve the students’ motor skills, reduce their sensory sensitivities and help them to remain calm and alert.

One of the newly offered leisure activities offered by the OT team last year was gardening. It was felt that gardening activities could offer the students the opportunity to practice a range of motor skills actions such as digging and opening seed packets. It was hoped that sensory sensitive students may be motivated to touch, smell and taste a range of foods as they were growing. Finally the OT team anticipated that gardening may be calming for the students’ due to the “heavy work” involved in activities such as pushing the wheelbarrow.

The project was set up in April 2013 by Occupational Therapy Assistant Samantha Byrne-Fraser under the supervision of Occupational Therapist Anna Humensky. After a few months of preparation, creating risk assessments and asking students’ to fill out a tick sheet of plants to grow, they asked the school principal for a location for the gardening plot and then started work.

The next step was to go out and buy the students’ most popular choice of fruit and vegetable seedlings as well as a few seeds. The OT team then started to get the students involved during OT sessions. The students were included in setting up some equipment such as a green house and storage box. They also helped plant the seeds in little pots and nurtured them along with the seedlings until they were ready to be planted outside. The students then helped plant the seedlings, fertilize them and made sure they were watered every day.

After each session the students each had a gardening diary to record their progress with the project.  

The garden ended up with a wide range of fruit, vegetables and flowers such as: potatoes, beans, strawberries, tomatoes, carrots, chillies, lettuce, pumpkins, onions, sunflowers and marigolds, as well as a few herbs.

The students reported that they had really enjoyed the gardening project. The OT team recorded the students’ increasing willingness to touch, smell and try the produce that they were growing. Gardening appears to have a calming impact upon the students and also seems to have boosted their self-esteem.

The OT team decided to let the students take either a plant or some of the produce home at the end of term when they broke up for summer, enabling them to share their hard work with friends and family.

As an overall result the team have found the project to be successful. They plan to carry this on in the next academic year and hopefully the children will continue to participate in something that they have shown a great interest in. The OT team plan to develop the project further by setting gardening goals in conjunction with the students. They will also try to introduce outcome measures to clearly demonstrate the benefits of the project.

For more details on Aspris Children's Services, please call 0118 970 8068 or click here to make an enquiry.