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Leander ISD Using 'Sensory Gardens' to Teach Disabled Students
Leander ISD students with special needs can learn to grow herbs, fruits, flowers and vegetables in sensory gardens.

Some elementary schools in the Leander School District are using gardens to teach life skills to students with disabilities by using their five senses.

For students with some physical or developmental disabilities, even the simplest tasks can be difficult. That makes it hard to learn reading and writing—as well as life skills, like knowing their address or phone number, how to interact with other people and personal responsibility.

In the garden, students can use their senses to learn about plant life and where food comes from, as well as help students with physical development and coordination. The students can touch the dirt and the leaves, smell the herbs, water the plants and watch them grow.

“In a lot of areas, they can’t do the same thing as their peers so this is something that’s their own they can take pride in," says Amy Masters, a teacher in Leander with the Individual Community Academic Program or ICAP, where many of these students spend their day. "We have kids with Down Syndrome, autism and intellectual disabilities and medical[ly] fragile and so they don’t get to do a lot of the same things."

She says gardening also helps show students an entire process of how flowers and vegetables grow.

“They see how something grows if we don’t water it how it doesn’t grow, how we pick tomatoes and responsibility of watering it every day and pruning and checking on it," says Masters.

The garden idea started at Parkside Elementary, where some teachers and parents have started a non-profit called the AG Projectto raise money for the gardens district-wide. It's named for a student with sensory disabilities. In Leander ISD, there are three gardens as well as another one under construction.

Carol Tedford also works with special needs students at Bagdad Elementary. Her husband built raised gardens using pipes so students in wheelchairs can reach the plants.

“They can go right up and weed and smell what’s growing, and they can water," Tedford explains.

Last year, the students grew herbs, strawberries, tomatoes and more. In February, they’ll begin cleaning up the gardens to plant new vegetables and herbs in the spring.

A previous version of this article stated that the sensory gardens began at Parkside elementary. In fact, the teacher who founded the AG Project, which funds the sensory gardens district-wide, teaches at Parkside, but the school does not yet have a garden. It is under construction to open this year.

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