This month it was a treat to see colleagues, past students, as well as folks new to HT at the annual AHTA conference. This year, we met in the Philadelphia area, home to many HT programs. Here are just few snippets of the wealth of information and inspiration.
From the keynote speaker Stephen Kellert – “Everyone on earth has an aesthetic response to nature!” Affiliating with nature potentially confers benefits that advance human health and fitness, including: stress reduction, healing & recovery, attention & concentration, problem solving, imagination & creativity, and personality development. For the best results this needs to be recurring and have social and cultural reinforcement. Read more about biophilia in his books on the subject.
From Jane Saiers – Single subject experiments are increasingly accepted as valuable contributions to research in many areas of health care and social sciences. This is good news for the profession of HT, because it is a model that can be achieved readily by practitioners. Read Design and Implementation of N-of-1 Trials: A User’s Guide for more information.
From Travis Slagle and Lorraine Freedle – Using a neurodevelopment model in HT programming for behavioral health care offers a basis for practice that promotes growth that is effective and sustainable. Much of their work at Pacific Quest is based on the work of Bruce Perry, M.D, Ph.D. See www.childtrauma.org.
From the membership work team – A new subcategory of “associate” members will allow students of certificate programs and interns to join AHTA at a reduced rate while they study HT. This will be open to part-time students – meeting the needs of many people pursuing HTR status. See more at: https://www.htinstitute.org/fall-2014-newsletter/#sthash.ia8dil9I.dpuf
“Ana” follows closely at my heels as I pull the spray bottle out of the shed and guide it into her eager hands with a gentle reminder to mist the sprouts, not her friends. She runs to the water play center, holds it under the stream, and returns to the raised bed vegetable garden before I can count to three. Squirt, squirt, squirt. As other preschoolers hear the recognizable sound, several quickly gather around to ask for a turn. Teachable and therapeutic moments present themselves as the children gently finger the flowers on the black-eyed peas, find the recognizable prick of the coneflower, uncover a camouflaged beetle, pull out stray grass – and a basil plant or two. Oops! Squirt, squirt…. Squeal! “Ana” gives in to the impulse and mists her friend who reacts in surprise but this time not anger because on a searing 95 degree day, he appreciates the cooling off as much as the sprout. We all need to be cared for.
While this scene of enthusiasm and inquiry can be seen across the nation in any preschool garden setting, the therapeutic learning that occurs throughout the center is uniquely Vogel. Vogel Alcove is a childcare provider in Dallas, Texas, accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), which for 25 years has opened its doors to children, ages 6 weeks to 5 years, who are experiencing homelessness. This month, that door will open to school age children as well as part of the new gap camp program.
Partnering with 21 affiliate homeless shelters and agencies in the metroplex, Vogel Alcove provides trauma informed care to meet the holistic needs of each child, recognizing that cognitive development occurs best when the child’s physical, emotional, and social needs are met and the child feels safe. The National Center on Family Homelessness cites that more than 80% of the children who are homeless have witnessed acts of violence, and in the 2013-2014 fiscal year, 36.5% of children at Vogel Alcove received developmental intervention. In addition to degreed early childhood educators, Vogel Alcove employees social workers to provide family support and a team of therapists, including OTs, PTs, and SLPs.
As the Specials Coordinator, I am privileged to apply my background in early childhood education, special education, community based instruction, and outdoor and garden-based education to this full time position that includes enrichment programming and management, field trip coordination, management of the outdoor learning environment, and therapeutic horticulture.
To work with young children in any setting, I find you need a full bag of “tricks” – a variety of techniques that you can pull out at the spur of the moment to engage, direct, and teach the children. When working with children who have experienced trauma, are in the midst of transition and instability, and who are gaining developmental ground, your bag of tricks must be ever expanding and individually responsive.
Below, I have listed a few of the tricks of the trade that I find most valuable to providing therapeutic horticulture experiences in this setting with the hopes that they will be transferable to other settings as well, especially those that include people who are very young, experiencing homelessness, or recovering from trauma. Goals for this population may include lengthening attention spans, increasing self-esteem, reducing stress, interacting appropriately with both peers and adults, and maintaining impulse control.
Preparation and garden planning:
1. Know your state’s licensing guidelines that affect horticultural programming. In Texas, these include a rule that children may not touch poultry or reptiles like lizards; that they wash their wash their hands with running water and soap after being outside; and that any climbing structure over 18” tall is surrounded by a safety fall zone.
2. Assume that anything in the environment may go into a child’s mouth. This could include surfacing material, plants, water, soil, tools, seeds, etc. so ensure that they are non-toxic, free of questionable chemicals like pesticides, and not a choking hazard. Provide adequate supervision.
3. Plan interactive garden spaces: For example, our new sensory garden doubles as our Messy Materials area, where the children will follow stepping stones through the beds; push wheelbarrows, dig in a digging bed, make mud pies, and move heavy items like pumpkins. Our wildlife garden will have equipment for nature study as well as a winding path to explore. Easter egg style treasure hunts among the plants provide some close interaction.
4. Overplant: Prepare yourself to lose some plants to impulse control – children can get on a roll with thinning or harvesting and pull out more plants that were intended! Remember the child is the focus; the garden is the tool.
5. Embrace your volunteers: Volunteers have been a tremendous work force for us, building our vegetable beds as well as our new sensory garden area, assisting the children with planting and watering, and managing some of the daily maintenance that is too taxing for the children.
6. Be sensitive to families’ concerns: Proper clothing and hygiene is a concern for many families in homeless situations, so gardening could be seen in a negative light. The families may not have easy access to washers or showers and they often have limited clothing options. Vogel Alcove not only helps to educate the families about the benefits of outdoor play and learning, but also manages a large resource room to help provide weather-appropriate clothing options.
7. Involve the primary teacher or caregiver in your sessions: To the young child, the teacher is a constant in his life: a nurturer, a protector, and a parent figure who helps the child feel secure. He or she has probably already discovered techniques for comforting or redirecting individual children. While working in small groups, the HT can demonstrate a technique and direct a subgroup while the caregiver works with another sub-group. The caregiver can also learn with the children and provide follow up between sessions. Licensed childcare centers must also comply with guidelines that include child to teacher ratios.
8. Keep group sizes small: 2-3 young children per adult is optimal to guide intentional activities and keep children safe with their tools, and on task.
9. Establish clear boundaries: Physical boundaries keep attention focused on the activity. Color coding or using natural features, like a grassy area vs. a rocky area allow you to more easily redirect a child who wanders. Raised beds provide a clear delineation of garden bed and pathway. Boundaries are helpful on a micro scale as well, for example place a mini-sized play dough cookie cutter over the sprouts you would like the child to thin.
10.Get children’s attention with a rhyme or song then disengage the stress response: (Adaptation of a method attributed to Conscious Discipline, by Becky Bailey) When working with a small group, it is helpful to begin with music or a finger play, like “Open them, Shut them” or “If you can hear my voice, clap your hands” (to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know it.) As you finish the rhyme, get very quiet, and guide children to “sniff a flower” then “blow out a candle” to breathe in and out slowly and deeply.
11. Keep the formal lesson very short and follow with hands on activities and coaching: For infants and toddlers that means about 5-8 minutes – long enough for a short book or demonstration. For preschoolers, 8-12 minutes works well. Then they are ready to get hands on.
12. Whenever possible, allow the activity to be an interest based center. At Vogel, the gardens are just one part of a large outdoor learning environment. Children freely come and go to the garden as their interest dictates, and most learning occurs through informal interactions. Indoor sessions are more structured, though children are always allowed to choose an independent option. We understand that some children may not be prepared emotionally for a group activity.
13. Use respectful, direct, positive language: Tell the child what you would like her to do; instead of what NOT to do. For example: “Keep your feet on the ground,” “Mist the sprouts, not your friends.” With many of our children, cooperation may require repeating the directive a number of times, a demonstration, or physical guidance.
14. Limit the number of tools used, but keep everyone engaged: For example, if four children are mixing soil in a large tub, 2 could use age appropriate spades, while 2 use their hands. This also provides an opportunity to practice taking turns and sharing while maintaining safety and keeping all children involved.
15. Prepare the children to transition back to their classrooms: Provide a five minute warning before clean up time, gather together on a rug or in a designated space outside for closure, and prepare the children to walk to their next area.
Working with young children who are experiencing homelessness is both extremely challenging and extremely rewarding. When “Jonas,” the passionate protector and defender, bolts to the raised bed to check the progress of the baby plants he has been nurturing or to extend a finger for the ladybug to perch, the full power of connecting with nature through horticulture is revealed.
Childrenandnature.org: Children and Nature Network: “The Children & Nature Network is leading the movement to connect all children, their families and communities to nature through innovative ideas, evidence-based resources and tools, broad-based collaboration and support of grassroots leadership”.
Consciousdiscipline.com. Bailey, Becky. Conscious Discipline is a whole-school solution for social-emotional learning, discipline and self-regulation.
Familyhomelessness.org: National Center on Family Homelessness: “The National Center on Family Homelessness is the nation’s foremost authority on family homelessness. We conduct state-of-the-art research and develop innovative solutions to end family homelessness in America and give every child a chance”.
Kidsgardening.org: News, ideas, grant opportunities, and resources specifically designed for gardening with children.
NAEYC.org: National Association for the Education of Young Children: Providing guidelines, training, education, and research to develop excellence in education or young children. See especially their section on nature: http://www.naeyc.org/content/earth-day
Natureexplore.org: “Nature Explore is a collaborative program of Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational ResearchFoundation, 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations” that offers services, education, and research to support the connection of children to nature.
NCTSN.org: National Child Traumatic Stress Network: Its mission is to raise the standard of care and improve access to services for traumatized children, their families and communities throughout the United States.
Photo Credits: Ashley Evans, Vogel Alcove
Katie Grimes is the Special Coordinator at Vogel Alcove and a graduate of HTI
Our mission at the Mental Health Center of Denver is enriching lives and minds by focusing on strengths and recovery. We have been providing comprehensive and accessible mental health treatment to the Denver community for 25 years. We connect adults to services that enable their recovery from mental illness, including housing, education and employment. For children and adolescents, MHCD provides prevention, early intervention, and treatment services in MHCD clinics, homes, early learning centers, schools, juvenile justice settings, and primary care providers.
Research and experience clearly demonstrate that integrated, holistic approaches continue to be the best strategies to achieve mental health for all. Children especially benefit from modalities of therapy that do not rely solely on verbal abilities, and instead use movement, artistic expression, and hands-on sensory activities. We introduced the first Horticultural Therapy summer program in 2011, adding to a growing roster of support groups and modalities that now include Voz y Corazon, an arts-based suicide prevention program, Yoga and Mindfulness, Sand Tray, Play, and Animal-Assisted Therapies, as well as several somatic-based trauma recovery protocols.
We started our Horticultural Therapy program in a borrowed garden on a shoe-string budget, and invited adolescents involved in the juvenile justice system to participate. Most of the youth had never spent any time in a food garden, and all reported that they found the environment and activities relaxing, fun, and different from anything they had tried before. In 2012 we built a small garden adjacent to the MHCD New Day Resource Center, and opened the program to a broader range of children. For the past two summers, we have offered a children’s group and a teen group, focusing on the clients’ needs to develop skills for self-care, relaxation, exercise, affect regulation, and pro-social interactions.
In September 2013 we launched Horticultural Therapy programming at our Day Treatment therapeutic school for elementary and middle school students. This year-round program utilizes a combination of indoor growing with grow lights, and a small outdoor garden for summer food production. Day Treatment serves the educational, emotional, and social needs of students who struggle with self-esteem, mood, anxiety, attention deficit/hyperactivity, impulsivity, and reality testing. We provide opportunities for the students to care for indoor and outdoor plants, explore earthworms and ladybugs, create plant-based crafts, and cook with fresh produce. In addition, we integrate basic science concepts, drawing from horticulture (How are plants and people alike?), planetary science (Why do we have seasons?), human biology (How do we use our senses?), and culture (Why do we eat some foods and not others?), among others.
In fall 2014, MHCD will break ground on a Child and Family Services Community Center in Northeast Park Hill in Denver. This four-acre site will include a mental health clinic, gymnasium, commercial-size demonstration kitchen, one-acre urban farm and CSA, and a 5000 square-foot aquaponic greenhouse for year-round indoor vegetable production. A garden will wind between the building and urban farm, providing space for Horticultural Therapy programming, several community plots, a memory garden, and demonstration areas for xeric, permaculture, and edible plants suited to the Front Range climate. To encourage and sustain healthy living habits, we will offer classes to the community in healthy cooking, nutrition, home vegetable production, and gardening with ornamentals.
We also plan to host teaching sessions led by local community experts, seed and seedling swaps, and work-days for community groups looking to participate in food production. In order to assess and meet the needs of the community, we have met with representatives from local neighborhoods, faith communities, law enforcement, seniors, schools, government, and other groups in dozens of brainstorming sessions. It has been our goal to avoid “showing up and telling everyone what they need” but rather to create a deeply collaborative process, including inviting our neighbors to help us plant the landscaping plants rather than have the work completed entirely by a landscaping crew.
Our Day Treatment program will re-locate to the new facility, and we will build a Horticultural Therapy station there to integrate self-calming tasks including watering, soil mixing, and cultivating plants, that help the children manage their strong emotions with sensory activities. We are also collaborating with our Research and Statistics Team to develop a study that will look at the effects of Horticultural Therapy interventions on behavior, mood, and attention among our Day Treatment students.
We hope our Horticultural Therapy program and our new center will become a model of what Community Mental Health can provide: prevention activities to strengthen body and mind, intervention services in the community where families live and work, and a wellness culture that supports healthy living for our clients, neighbors, visitors and employees.
Carol LaRocque is the Youth Justice Therapist at Mental Health Center of Denver and a graduate of the HT Institute.
The HT Institute is in the thick of offering three new Fundamentals of HT classes across the country. A group of 20 students is joining the class at Melwood Training Center outside of Washington DC this month. Still to come in November is the same class in Denver, CO (Nov. 6-9) and in Half Moon Bay, CA (Nov. 20-23). A few spots still remain in Denver and California. Check out the website for more details.
Congratulations to two past students and graduates of HTI as they received their HTR credentials.
Sara Wevodau, 2013 graduate of HTI, received her professional registration credentials last month, and is excited to contribute to the growing presence of horticultural therapy in Northern Colorado. Currently she is working with The Growing Project (www.thegrowingproject.org) in Fort Collins as an independent contractor, helping to lead several pilot programs among at-risk youth this fall.
In addition, Laurie Kilroy, 2014 HTI graduate also received her HTR credentials.
View the recording of a recent live webinar:
Topic: Entering the Profession of Horticultural Therapy
You will learn:
Credits available through