Gardening is fun, relaxing, and a great way to spend some time in the great outdoors. For individuals with Down syndrome, not only can gardening be an incredibly therapeutic experience, but it can also enhance their independence and abilities. Here are some effective tips to help teach an individual with Down syndrome how to care for and maintain their own garden.
Deciding where you will be planting.
The first step seems kind of obvious, but it requires a bit of planning. Will you be going to a community garden, your back yard, or potting some plants at their home? Will you have a raised garden bed or not? The amount of space available to work will make a difference, as well as the amount of storage space for tools and equipment. Make sure to discuss and evaluate the options with them if there is more than one before making a final decision.Picking out tools and equipment.
Picking out tools and equipment.
Individuals with Down syndrome don’t develop motor skills the same way as typically-developing individuals. For this reason, it is important to make sure you find the right tools for that individuals ability levels. Particularly, make sure a tool such as a shovel or trowel have thick, sturdy handles, and hand grips when possible. Use consideration when picking out a garden hose as standard rubber hoses can be very heavy and difficult to roll up. Expandable hoses might be the way to go. Gloves may also get in the way of fine motor skills, so the better the glove fits, the easier it will be to use.
Getting the plants or seeds.
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An important step in the process is picking out the plants they wish to grow. If this is the first time they will be gardening, especially if they will primarily tending the garden on their own, I recommend starting with some low maintenance plants such as tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, beans, herbs, and peppers. Make sure to find out what they want to grow, if there is anything that doesn’t work with their diet, or that they just do not like. Don’t forget to consider the amount of space you have to plant in, as some plants take up more space than others.
Preparing the ground.
There are many ways to prepare the ground for planting. Turning the soil can be a very laborious and physically demanding thing to do depending on the terrain, and using a rototilling machine is likely the most time effective way to go. If you do not have one on hand, a neighbor may be available to help or hardware stores may have them available to rent. Alternatively, potting or gardening soil can be bought and used or you and your friend can just till the old fashioned way.
Planting the seeds.
Show your friend how to dig a small hole, big enough for the small plant or seeds to be placed in to. Next, fill in the hole with dirt. Make sure to mark what you’ve just planted with a small sign so you know what’s growing there, and how much to water it. Do this for all of the plants in the garden, making sure everything is spaced out sufficiently. An easy way to do this is to mark where the holes should go and then letting them dig.
Making a fence.
Depending on where the garden is located, it may not require any fencing, however, if needed, a temporary fence can easily be created from wooden stakes and chicken wire. It is one of the easiest fences to move and lift when you need to gain access to the plants, but will keep out hungry animals. Be careful though when the plants grow as if there is not sufficient room, plants can grow through the fencing and make accessibility an issue.
Watering the plants.
Use a garden hose with a nozzle or a sprinkler to water the garden. Using a timer may help to ensure all plants get enough water. For example, tell your friend that each plant needs to be watered for X seconds. That way, they can set the timer for as long as they need, and when the timer goes off, they should be done with that plant and can move on to the next. A similar method of timing can be used for a sprinkler.
Creating a gardening calendar or chart.
Make a calendar that reminds your friend when to water the plants. Whether it’s daily, every other day, or every couple days, creating a color coded chart will help them keep track. This calendar or chart can also include how often they should weed the garden, or check for ripe produce. Make sure to let them know that if it is raining, they do not have to go out and give them more water.
Weeding the garden.
No one likes having a garden full of weeds, so show your friend what weeds look like and how to pull them. Using small signs to designate where their veggies have been planted will help prevent the good plants from getting pulled. If needed, create a chart of common weeds in your area to show them which to pull. Making sure you have adequate gloves for the job will also be helpful to everyone involved.
Harvesting the food.
The best part of gardening is eating what you’ve grown! Make sure to have a bucket or basket available to use for the ripe crops. Again, a chart or picture may be helpful for showing whether or not a crop is ready to be picked. Do this by putting pictures of ripe and unripe veggies side by side and labeling when they are ready and not ready to be picked. Make sure to put a note on the chart that reminds them to always wash their veggies before cooking or eating them.
These tips should help to make gardening easier and more relaxing for individuals with Down syndrome.