Jenny Clark


Getting Kids Outside for a Therapeutic Experience, Part 2: Therapeutic Gardening

Therapeutic gardening is a wonderful way to get kids outside and learn about nature while developing sensory processing, motor skills, language, and social skills. In this podcast, Jenny explains the benefits of therapeutic gardening and offers practical suggestions for ways therapists and parents can help children get outside and garden!

In part 1 we learned that getting outside exposes us to sunlight, which is vital for our bodies to make vitamin D and making vitamin D balances our immune system. A recent study looking at global data from COVID19 found that there is a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and increased susceptibility to the repercussions of this novel virus. Another recent study revealed that people are less likely to get coronavirus while outside, because indoor air spreads the virus more quickly.

This is just more evidence to validate the importance of getting kids outside.

Therapeutic gardening is a wonderful way to get kids outside and learn about nature while developing sensory processing, motor skills, language, and social skills.

What are the benefits of therapeutic gardening?

  • Exposure to the elements of nature is very healing. Studies reveal that exposure to nature reduces blood pressure, eases muscle tension, decreases the production of stress hormones, and enhances immune function. And of course, they are exposed to sunlight, which will help vitamin D production.
  • Gardening facilitates emotional regulation. Research shows that exposure to the outdoors improves mood and reduces anxiety. This is very good news for parents with children who have developmental disabilities such as sensory processing disorder and autism because these children have an increased risk of mental and physical health issues.
  • Studies show that children with ADHD improve attention from exposure to green spaces, including just looking at a plant.
  • Gardening develops fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, balance, postural stability, and muscle strength.
  • There are always new things to learn about gardening. Learning a new skill contributes to growth and development helping a child feel a sense of independence and self-worth.

Kids can grow a vegetable garden, herb garden, flower garden and/or make a fairy garden.  

Growing a vegetable garden contributes to a child’s nutrition. When children grow their own vegetables, they are more likely to eat them. (example of child who grew green beans). Summer is a good time in most places to plant tomatoes, summer squash, green beans, and peppers just to name a few. Start by selecting vegetables that you know your child likes to eat.

Herb gardens are a wonderful sensory experience. Kids can get immediate sensory input through their olfactory system, the sense of smell, simply by pinching off a small piece of the herb and rubbing it between their finger and thumb. This also is great for developing pincer grasp and in-hand manipulation skills. There are a variety of herbs kids can grow; Basal, thyme, sage, rosemary, peppermint, parsley, dill, and cilantro, just to name a few.

Flower gardens are full of beauty. Select flowers that are hearty for your climate so they can be enjoyed all through the summer months. Some flowers have more fragrance than others. Have the child select which colors and smells they like the most. Get a pot, some soil, and teach the child how to plant the flower. The child will develop responsibility by learning how to continue to take care of the flowers such as regularly watering it and pinching off any dead flowers or leaves to help facilitate new growth.

Fairy gardens help to develop a child’s imagination, creativity, and pretend play. You can commercially purchase some fairy garden items, but it is much more fun and creative to make a fairy garden out of nature items. Kids can go on a nature scavenger hunt and collect twigs, leaves, acorns, and unique rocks. Use any container to put the fairy garden into. It can be an old broken pot, the base of a pot, a basket with a plastic liner, or a small spot in the backyard. Start by filling the container with soil, next place the plants where you want them, and finish by arranging the nature items to create a one-of-a-kind fairy garden. Children can even make their own fairies out of craft material. Fairy houses can be made from sticks, string, glue, leaves and moss. There are many more ideas on Pinterest. This is excellent for fine motor skills, motor planning, and sequencing. Creating a theme can be fun. Here are a few examples; a beach theme, desert theme, woodland theme, English garden theme, camping theme, and so the list goes on… It is only limited to your imagination!

Getting Kids Outside for a Therapeutic Experience: Part 1

COVID19 quarantine is causing many of us to feel a bit of cabin fever. The good news is that we can experience the great outdoors while staying safe and healthy. As a matter of fact, getting outside in fresh air and sunlight helps boost the immune system. In this pod-cast, Jenny suggests different ways to connect children with nature. In part 1 of this series, since many children are still at home due to COVID19, Jenny starts with ideas that allow children to connect with nature in their own backyard.

COVID19 quarantine is causing many of us to feel a bit of cabin fever. The good news is that we can experience the great outdoors while staying safe and healthy. As a matter of fact, getting outside in fresh air and sunlight helps boost the immune system. Sunlight energizes T-cells in the immune system which are key to the body’s ability to fight infections. In addition, when skin is exposed to sunlight, it makes vitamin D, an essential vitamin for healthy bones and a strong immune system.

Sunlight increases serotonin, a neurochemical that helps our mood so that we can feel calm, focused, and positive. This can help keep anxiety at bay, which is especially important during these uncertain times.

Exposure to sunlight improves sleep. Cells in our eyes need sunlight to adjust our internal body clock. Quality sleep can make all the difference in a child’s physical and mental health.

Studies show that being around green space, such as trees and grass, and blue space, like creeks, streams, or ponds, improves self-esteem and focusing.

Let’s explore different ways to connect children with nature. In part 1 of this series, since many children are still at home due to COVID19, we will start with ideas that allow children to connect with nature in their own backyard.

Well, let’s get started, the adventures await us!

An important note before we start, be safe and remember to wear sunscreen outside to protect from harmful UV rays.

Here are some fun activities for children to get outside, and you don’t have to go very far, just your own backyard!

OT’s, PT’s and Speech therapists can integrate these activities into a therapy session, or they can be implemented as a home program. These activities develop fine motor skills, visual motor skills, visual perceptual skills, gross motor skills, social skills, auditory processing skills, and sensory self-regulation.

  • Sidewalk chalk: draw a hopscotch pattern, write letters and numbers, draw pictures, play tic, tac, toe.
  • Bubbles: blow bubbles, pop bubbles, catch bubbles on the wand, stomp on bubbles before they pop on the ground.
  • Water play: fill up balloons and have a water balloon fight, use a spray bottle to water plants or grass outside, fill a bowl of water and squeeze sponges into an empty bowl, paint with water on the sidewalk.
  • Birds: Watch for birds and locate them. Close your eyes and try to find where the bird sound is coming from. This is good for auditory localization skills. Take a photo then look up the type of bird. Listen for the bird sound and record it, then try to match the sound with the photo. You can use a smart phone for this.
  • Trees: Hug a tree and feel the texture of the bark for a tactile sensory game. If you can climb a tree be safe and go for it! Stand in the shade of a tree and then in the sun, notice the difference in temperature. This develops interoception awareness. Pick a leaf from a tree and do a crayon rubbing. Find a stick from a tree and jump over it.
  • Insects: Look for insects and count how many you see. Listen for the sound of the insect and locate where it is flying. Learn 3 fun facts about that insect. Write about it to work on handwriting skills.
  • Go on a nature scavenger hunt. Make a list of fun outside nature items to safely and easily find. Have at least 1 item for each sensory system. Something to smell, something to feel, something to see, something to hear, etc. For example: smell a flower, feel a rock, see a butterfly, listen for a bird’s song, and other items such as a bug, feather, a cloud and so on. Have the child check off each item as they find it. They can work on reading skills too. This is a great activity for visual perception.
  • Pick flowers and smell them. Create a bouquet. Make a paper cone flower holder. Press the flowers between wax paper and place inside a heavy book so they flatten. Then glue the flowers to paper and write a label to name each flower.
  • Make an obstacle course out of available materials. Such as a hula hoop, baseball glove, a tree in the yard, and so on.
  • Sandbox play. Work on scooping and pouring. Bury a toy and feel and find it. Great tactile activity.
  • Paint rocks with watercolors, then wash it off with a hose. Great proprioception with holding the hose full of water.
  • Make a birdhouse out of a milk carton. Make a bird feeder. You can make a bird feeder out of a pinecone, a toilet paper roll, a bagel, cereal, an orange, or a milk carton. There are many ideas on Pinterest on how to make these. Hang the bird house and the bird feeder in your backyard and watch the birds arrive.
  • Engage in a pretend car wash: Wash toy cars with shaving cream and a toothbrush, then rinse off with the hose because it’s super heavy.
  • Collect nature items and glue them on paper to make a nature collage. Talk about interesting facts of each item.  Older children can work on handwriting skills and label the items and write down some fun facts.
  • Go on a sound safari in your neighborhood. Create a list of sounds that you may commonly hear, such as a fire engine siren, a dog barking, a car passing by, the wind blowing, and any other sounds that you want to add. This is great for auditory processing skills.
  • Find a buried treasure in your own backyard. The therapist will need to coordinate with parents ahead of time. Have them bury an object somewhere in the back yard. The object could be pennies inside a container. Make a treasure map on a piece of paper. Follow the map engaging in gross motor actions along the way to find the buried treasure.

The Many Adventures of Telehealth in Pediatric Therapy

Telehealth is an adventure in which therapists encounter many new opportunities and challenges. It requires flexibility, creativity, and open-mindedness. In this podcast, Jenny offers some ready-to-implement activity ideas from her experience in telehealth to help make the telehealth adventure easier to navigate.

I know it is very scary to tackle teletherapy for the first time. I was nervous when I started practicing teletherapy 3 years ago. I needed confidence that I could navigate the technology pieces. I needed reassurance that I could be creative with limited resources. I learned a lot about how to effectively implement teletherapy, but it took courage and a sense of adventure.

So I ask you, what would Winnie The Pooh do during this time of COVID-19? Pooh bear is a simple bear with a childlike personality, full of wonder and exploration. He takes things as they come and lives life in a fun and spontaneous manner. And when he lives his life this way, it always turns out just fine. Remember to be like Winnie the Pooh so you don’t get stuck in the mud like Eeyore!

Telehealth truly is an adventure! You will encounter many new opportunities when using telehealth service delivery model for pediatric therapy. You will develop resiliency, just as the children with multiple challenges do in their lives daily. Be flexible, creative, open-minded and expect the unexpected.

Here are some ready-to-implement activity ideas to help make your telehealth adventure a little easier to navigate.

Ready-to-Implement-Activity Ideas

Activity ideas using a paper bag and crayons

  • Tear edges of bag to make fringe
  • Go on a scavenger hunt with paper bag
  • Locomotor actions – pick up a crayon and move across room to place in bag
  • Trace hand on paper bag with crayon
  • Identify objects inside bag without looking

Activity ideas using a couch, pillows, chairs

Good for proprioception input, motor planning and following directions.

  • Hop over a pillow
  • Jump & stop activity on couch
  • Bear walk, crab walk over pillows
  • Pretend turtle with pillow on back while crawling
  • Imitate Ninja moves with pillow

Activity ideas using pipe cleaners

  • String cereal
  • Twist together and jump over
  • Copy design for visual perception
  • Wrap around finger
  • Minute to win it, how many can you pick up in 1 minute

Activity ideas using a playground ball

  • Roll over bowling pins (could be empty plastic bottles)
  • Ball wall walk, don’t let it fall
  • Crab kick
  • Spell words for each catch
  • Over under game with adult assistant

Activity ideas using cotton balls

  • Draw a sheep or cloud on paper and glue cotton balls
  • Sponge painting with cotton balls
  • Pretend feed cotton balls to plush animal
  • While supine, pick up cotton ball with toes and bring to hands
  • Throw and catch cotton ball