Creating a Garden in an Urban Shelter

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Objective: To bring natural elements of a garden into an urban shelter

Materials: Outing materials: pencils, paper or pre-made pamphlets, digital cameras, mural paper, markers, tissue paper, pictures from outing, colorful tape, glue sticks

While interning at an urban shelter, a colleague and I decided to end our time by bringing the kids to a botanical garden, and taking nature back with us to the shelter.  To create a "garden" in the shelter. 

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The kids ages varied from preteens to teens.  We found out along the way to the garden that none of the kids had ever been to such a space before.  So it ended up being an opportunity for them to explore something new, outside of their usual concrete, urban environments.  As they walked through the garden they commented in awe at the beauty and serenity of the landscape.  It happened to be a beautiful sunny spring day. 

My colleague and I had printed pamphlets for the kids to use while exploring the gardens together. Here are some ideas of what could be used in the pamphlet:

  1. Draw a flower, leaf, or tree that catches your eye.  Explain what caught your eye.
  2. If you were a bug or animal, what would a day at the garden be like for you? (Explore with writing, drawing or both) 
  3. Write a story, list of words, or poem about your experience at the garden. 
  4. Create 4-8 free drawing or writing.  Draw or write about your experience. 

As we toured the garden, we stopped along the way so that the kids could take pictures, draw, or write about what they were experiencing.  The day ended under the blooming cherry blossom trees.  The kids were given time to finish their drawings and writings.  After everyone finished, we huddled in a circle so that they could share their experiences.

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The next day we printed some of the pictures that were taken at the garden.  We had a variety of mural making supplies including the pictures, paints, markers, etc. ready for the same kids.  They came into the art therapy room to create a mural about the outing by creating images of natural elements, using images from the printed pictures, and adding colors into a space that was usually very bland.  The mural making project was a great way to end the experience.  It gave the kids a chance to share more stories, talk about what they experienced, talk about safety, and to try to create a different "environment" in the room.

This idea was inspired by an environmental art therapy class I had taken while in graduate school. 

*Another way to bring the "garden" into the art therapy room might have been to have the kids to plant some indoor plants into their own pots.