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Visually impaired and blind children learn to garden

The Issue

There are limited opportunities for blind and visually impaired children to participate in gardening and home horticulture educational activities. This is an underserved group in San Diego County.

What Has ANR Done?

The Master Gardeners in San Diego County developed a garden-based summer camp in 2006 for the visually impaired and blind youth at the San Diego Braille Institute. Fourteen children (ages 9-19) attended a week of daily classes, which provided a fun, interesting and non-threatening way to involve this population in gardening and home horticulture. Camp activities were designed to provide a wealth of sensory experiences, including taste, touch and smell, along with hands-on planting opportunities. Participants explored gardening basics, soils, general plant care, "good" and "bad" bugs, herbs, houseplants, succulents, natives, vegetables, seeds, flowers and carnivorous bog plants and fruit trees. The young participants left with a love for plants and were inspired to garden. Master Gardener volunteers repeated and expanded the program during the summer of 2007. They developed ideas for planning the program to make it engaging
for blind and visually impaired children. The approach included:

Spending time on planning and preparation. Each presenter practiced in front of the planning team, who kept their eyes closed to provide feedback and ideas for enhancing the presentation for the children. During the "live" presentations, at least one Master Gardener was in the back of the classroom to help prompt questions during the presentation. This helped the presenters pick up on things they may have forgotten to mention, and gave the children more confidence to ask questions.

Using the same "day camp counselors" each day. The kids got to know the leaders by voice and smell. Building this relationship was important so they could focus on learning about gardening instead of getting acquainted with new volunteers each day.

Brainstorming to identify many non-visual experiences. Each day was split into two very different learning experiences to make sure the kids were constantly challenged and engaged. Opportunities to plant were especially important.

The Payoff

Young blind and visually impaired participants are now home gardeners

The 14 children who participated in the summer camp learned that they can grow their own plants at home. They now have a healthy activity that they can share with their families. This UCCE Master Gardener project won the National Gardening Association's "Search for Excellence Award" and the Search for Excellence Award for "Special Audiences" at the 2007 International Master Gardener Conference. The committee and project chairs said the award was a great honor, but feedback from the youth and praise from parents and teachers was the best reward.

Clientele Testimonial

"We . . . are excited about having a new hobby we can explore together."-- A participant's parent
"The best thing was planting a tree and a tomato plant and a plant for inside our house." - A camp participant


Supporting Unit: Master Gardener Statewide Program

UCCE Master Gardener Program in San Diego County
Vince Lazaneo, (858) 694-2859, vflanzaneo@ucdavis.edu