Why Gardening can be Great for Children with SEND

By Becky Pinniger, horticultural therapist and author of How to garden and grow: gardening as therapy for children with SEND

There are many books available on gardening with children, which are well illustrated, full of clear instructions and ideas for seasonal activities. These books are aimed at children, parents and teachers and can be a mine of information.

There are, however, very few gardening books written particularly for those working with children recognised as having special educational needs and/or disability (SEND). Their specific need or disability may restrict their opportunities to venture into a garden and be involved in any activities.

Consequently, some are being excluded from the many and varied benefits that being outdoors and involved in gardening can bring.

As a horticultural therapist working with children of different needs and ages, I am aware of just how therapeutic and beneficial gardening can be for them. I have worked with teachers, teaching assistants, parents and volunteers, to enable them to garden with their children with SEND, and it has made me aware of the need for a practical guide book. That is why I have written How to garden and grow: gardening as therapy for children with SEND.

I hope it will make it easier for carers to enable all children, whatever their ability, to benefit in some way through the wonderful resources of gardens, gardening and the natural environment.

Inevitably it is easier for some, more than others, to access outdoor spaces, gardens and gardening itself. This book aims to address how children with SEND can benefit from gardens and gardening, and how you can make it possible for all children to do so.

By working in gardens with young people, therapists at Thrive (a registered charity using social and therapeutic horticulture to benefit those touched by disability) have demonstrated how children with SEND can benefit. Anecdotal evidence gathered from parents, staff and the young people themselves has shown what a positive experience coming to the garden and being involved in gardening can be. Their confidence, independence and awareness of the world around them can be improved by gardening for a few hours a week.

Some young people have the additional benefit of being given a purpose and direction in which to go after leaving school.

The benefits of gardening can include:

  • improvements in physical health
  • improvements in psychological health
  • social benefits
  • access to the environment and connecting with nature
  • qualifications and skills development.

Meeting the needs of the child you are working with should determine the task you are doing with them. The needs of the garden should always come second, if you are using gardening to benefit the child.

Becky Pinniger is a former primary school teacher and has worked extensively with secondary school students with autism. She is now a freelance horticultural therapist and trainer with Thrive and has led several training courses on gardening with children with SEND. 

How to garden and grow: gardening as therapy for children with SEND is published by LDA.