The Children's Institute Blog

Transition Skills Blossom

Posted: Sep 17, 2019 by The Children's Institute

Image of student standing proudly with garden shovel
A seed of an idea burst into full bloom more than 15 years ago when staff in The Day School began to discuss how simple planting activities that individual teachers were using in the classroom could grow into a comprehensive program. Their work culminated in the development of The Day School Gardening Club.

“Gardening is motivational and great for the mental health of any individual,” says Lisa Paglia, Community-Based Instruction Facilitator/Volunteer Job Developer for The Day School. “For those with special needs, gardening also advances developmental, social, and recreation and leisure skills.”

Frequently cited benefits of special needs gardening include enhanced motor skills, social skills, creativity, and self-confidence. Adults who garden side-by-side with a child can actually see a different side of his or her personality, as well as an increase in positive behaviors.

Image of student and teacher's aide gardening at The Children's Institute
The Gardening Club’s efforts first took root with plantings on The Children’s Institute’s Squirrel Hill campus. Over time, connections with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and The Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition led to opportunities to help in the local community. The success of those relationships blossomed into a collaboration with The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

“Cultivating partnerships like the one we have with The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy has made a significant impact on The Day School’s community-based instruction,” Lisa says. “We can address elements of physical, occupational, and speech therapies, spend time outside, and practice communication and socialization skills. It also gives students a real sense of accomplishment to see the results of their hard work.”

On May 1, 2018, eight students from The Day School planted Pittsburgh’s ADA-accessible (Americans with Disabilities Act) community garden. Located in Shadyside at First United Methodist Church of Pittsburgh and owned by The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, this flower garden offers people of all ages and abilities the opportunity to get their hands dirty tending plants and flowers.

Image of student and Bob Russell gardening at The Children's Institute
“Lisa Paglia has worked tirelessly to expand our community-based instruction by reaching out to local organizations and businesses,” explains Bob Russell, Work Evaluation and Training Center Teacher at The Day School. “Her efforts to build relationships, and the work of transition teachers, job coaches, and the students out in the community, have shined a spotlight on how much people with special needs have to offer to the neighborhoods that they call home.”

Lisa Paglia with two students at the First United Methodist Church garden
In addition to community gardening efforts, students tend five accessible raised planters on the Squirrel Hill campus. In the spring, summer, and fall, they are filled with flowering annuals and perennials. In the winter, tiny evergreens grow surrounded by twinkling strands of lights. Soon, an indoor gardening system will be constructed at The Day School. This grant-funded initiative will allow for year-round planting and gardening. In addition to expanding gardening lessons within the classroom, vegetables and herbs will be harvested by students and used in The Day School cooking classes.

“Gardening is a sustainable long-term component of our curriculum that teaches a variety of important work and life skills in a unique way,” Lisa concludes. “The seasons will keep changing, there will always be places to plant, and lasting memories can be built from sharing gardening experiences with family and friends.”

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