Hort Journal: Therapeutic Horticulture – Digging Deep Into Student Wellbeing

 

By Michael Casey MAIH RH and Dr Kate Neale AAIH

 

This article first appeared in the June 2019 of Hort Journal – visit www.hortjournal.com.au for the full edition.

 

A residential project at the home of a school principal six years ago began a dialogue regarding how the therapeutic benefits his new outdoor space was having a positive impact on his wellbeing. He wanted to know whether a garden could be recreated within his school to deliver the same benefits for his students. Located on the outskirts of Melbourne, the senior high school sits within a multi-cultural and diverse residential community, with many students from different cultural backgrounds and religions. The principal recognised the importance of ensuring students at the school, many of whom were newly settled in Australia, quickly felt safe and settled in their new environment. He required something that would not only assist students to cope with their new environment but help assist their family as well.

 

The program allows Year 11 and 12 students to enrol in an outdoor project management or horticulture program whilst working towards their VCE studies. Projects within the program vary in size and scope but have previously included the design and construction of landscaped areas or construction and maintenance of food gardens. The program utilises students’ own skills and interests whilst working alongside an industry professional or team of trained tradesmen to build their capacity to build or manage a specific project. Objectives include: improved graduate employability; student cohesion and increased school spirit; building student esteem and potential; building confidence and encouraging student voice.

 

 

‘Naturing Education’ facilitator, Michael Casey in the food garden with students studying their Certificate 2 Horticulture.

‘Naturing Education’ facilitator, Michael Casey in the food garden with students studying their Certificate 2 Horticulture.

 

 

The Theory Behind Wellbeing

There is also overwhelming evidence emerging that active student participation within their own education is a predictor of student wellbeing. Research led by Professor Anne Graham, Centre from Children and Young People at Southern Cross University explored student wellbeing through active participation and found students working together through dynamic, reciprocal and meaningful interactions with others, including teachers and school staff, had a positive impact on their wellbeing.

 

Seeds of Wellbeing

Unsure or fearful of how ideas would be received, students were initially reserved in sharing ideas and expertise in group brainstorming sessions. The collaborative nature and shared power structures within the group, however, enabled and encouraged ideas in a supportive and action-based environment. The program structure enabled students to either vocalise ideas or express them through their physical contribution outside. Students quickly responded to this by engaging in the opportunity to lead aspects of, or co-manage the projects alongside, and with the safety net, of experienced professional facilitators to guide them.

 

Being in the garden offered an opportunity for teachers and students to converse in a manner that built rapport. This strengthened relationships, developed mutual respect for each other’s perspectives and enabled both to feel more comfortable discussing matters that may not have been raised in a classroom setting. This also enabled the cohort to develop individual and shared problem-solving, resilience and team-building skills as inevitable challenges arose within the project or school environment.

 

 

A small section of the food garden showing beds have been prepped by the students for future mass plantings of leafy greens.

A small section of the food garden showing beds have been prepped by the students for future mass plantings of leafy greens.

 

As the research continues, students’ own perspectives will be privileged in understanding what other benefits of active participation in greenspaces impact upon their wellbeing and ways this can be enhanced further.

 

 

Michael Casey is Director at MJC Horticulture Pty Ltd a Design, Consultation, Construction and Management company operating in and around Melbourne. He is currently President of the Australian Institute of Horticulture and National Councillor with Therapeutic Horticulture Australia. Michael can be contacted via: michael@mjchorticulture.com.au

Dr Kate Neale is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Children and Young People specialises in the therapeutic benefits of gardening on children and people with disability. Her email is: kate.neale@scu.edu.au.

 

 

 

 

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