WEC Discovery Garden for Children with Disabilities
Westchester Exceptional Children’s School (WEC), a not for profit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) year round New York State approved special education day facility located in North Salem, NY. 100% of the students that WEC serves have developmental disabilities with over 50% on the autism spectrum.
WEC operates a gardening program, annually from March – October, for 80 students (ages 5-21) with learning disabilities, which provides daily hands-on experiences that allows students to see cause-and-effect relationships, creates connections across the curriculum, provides positive reinforcement, and affords opportunities for students to practice communication and social skills.
Managed by a full time coordinator and assistant, WEC has three gardens (10 x 55 and 10 x 22 rectangular, and 45 x 45 x 22 triangular) in which the students prep the soil, plant, water, harvest, etc. The students are brought to the gardens in small groups (2-3 at a time) for 45-minute sessions, so they receive individualized instruction and direction. Staff and students sell vegetables from the school's farm stand and incorporate the vegetables into the school’s lunch program. To expand on the success of our program and turn the program into a 3-season garden, WEC will be installing an enclosed greenhouse.
The goals of the project include 1) to help youth with developmental disabilities build self-esteem and self-reliance while fostering positive interactions with nature and the environment; 2) to hone social skills like cooperation, patience, and leadership; 3) To encourage youth to try healthy foods and adopt fruit and vegetable rich eating habits; and 4) To improve cognitive and behavioral functioning in participants.
Anticipated benefits of the gardening program include improved fine and gross motor skills, social skills, self-esteem, sensory perception, and creativity. Opportunities for hands-on learning through exploration, experimentation and nurturing can be especially beneficial for children with special needs.
KGI is a nonprofit community of over 30,000 people who are growing some of our own food and helping others to do the same.
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