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Connecting with Nature at The Children's Center
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By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
AUGUST 25, 2021 – For students at The Children’s Center, the garden is about far more than simply looking at and smelling flowers and vegetables.
It’s also about digging, touching plants, listening to the sounds of birds and insects, learning to grow their own flowers and vegetables, and much more.
“This is just an amazing opportunity for our students to connect with nature,” said Principal Tamatha Fullerwinder.
The students who attend The Children Center have special needs. Spending time in the garden may reveal talents that were previously unknown, Fullerwinder said.
“They can show their giftedness in nature and how they are smart in other ways.”
JoAnn Yates, who is a registered Horticultural Therapist, is the person responsible for leading students on their adventures into nature.
“Miss JoAnn has written a wonderful curriculum to go with this,” Fullerwinder said.
“It is my passion to connect people with nature – we are part of that,” Yates said. “This is first – and foremost – a therapy garden.”
At the same time, she wants to make the experience as enjoyable as possible.
“I want to make it fun,” she said.
While Yates works with all of the students in a class, she may also focus on a particular activity with one student that she thinks will serve the student. That might mean helping a student become comfortable touching a plant.
“We involve all of the senses,” she said.
Horticulture classes for students at The Children’s Center won’t begin until September. On the morning of Wednesday Aug. 25, teacher Sara Stoeppelwerth and instructional assistant Tamara Pike stopped by with students Ely'Jah Furches, Steven Johnson, and Abraham Meza for an informal visit.
After Ely'Jah spent some time touching one of the flowering plants, Yates plucked sprigs of such plants as mint, basil and rosemary and gave the students and the adults the opportunity to sniff them.
Stoeppelwerth and Pike said they appreciate being able to bring the students into the garden.
“It about exposing them to as many experiences as you can,” Stoeppelwerth said.
“I think kids need an outlet and to learn about nature,” Pike said.
Everyone can also appreciate nature back in the classroom. Yates has given each class a live plant that students can visit with throughout the week as the learn such responsibilities as making sure it has the water it needs.
Stoeppelwerth appreciates Yates’ relaxed approach. If a student plucks off something that she didn’t plan to have plucked, that’s fine with Yates.
The garden includes a variety of flowers and, over the course of a school year, such fruits and vegetables as blueberries, corn, and pumpkins.
The garden has sections with different focuses. In one section, students can enjoy digging the earth. In the hummingbird/butterfly section, they can look for flying friends.
And, wherever they go, they can discover such unexpected wonders as a caterpillar, which gives Yates the opportunity to talk about how that caterpillar will be a butterfly or moth one day.
And, if a student doesn’t want to visit with living plants or insects and birds in the moment, he or she can take a break and pick up one of the toy elephants, giraffes or other animals that live on a table in the garden and visit with it.
“I love being with kids,” Yates said. “I learn something every day from them.”
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