Our School Year Continues in the Garden: A Post from the S.T.E.P. Centre on World Cerebral Palsy Day

Since it is difficult to share from a non-WordPress blog, I have copied and pasted this beautiful post from my friends at the S.T.E.P. Centre in Kingston. I remember seeing their garden (once a dump full of construction materials and garbage, before the school was built) in its early tentative days. Now it is starting to blossom for the children. I am so happy that the Natural History Museum of Jamaica is involved in its development. The joy a garden can bring! P.S. I am glad to hear the birds are part of the family!

You can find this article here. All the photos are by S.T.E.P. Centre.

Blog written by Hilary Sherlock

Formatted and message by Leslie Wan

Hilary Sherlock (Principal of the S.T.E.P. Centre Jamaica)  ……….

That special tree, there from the start.

In the back garden at the school, there is a large tree. Our Mother Tongue (Albizzia lebbek) tree was one of the few trees we were able to save while building our “new school”.  I think of it as our giving tree.

It provides welcome shade for our students and staff, safe nesting places for the birds and other garden creatures, and has very much become one of us. I don’t think it is my imagination, but it looks bigger, more lush –  indeed a happy tree. Though it must have flowered before this year, it seems to do so profusely and fragrantly now. It is a living text to seasonal changes and life cycles – a mutual symbiosis of plant and animal interaction. We have no doubt that being outside in nature, is both calming and encouraging for our children. Nature builds our immune systems and encourages us to accept diversity in all things.  As a prominent botanist and nature writer Robin Wall Kimmerer wrote: “By a shower of gifts and a heavy rain of lessons, she provides for us and teaches us to provide for ourselves, That’s what good mothers do.”

Our garden started off as a sensory garden and now our friends from the Natural History Museum describe it as a wildlife garden. What could be more sensory than that. Like our children, the garden seems to have a will of its own. We reap sweet watermelons and the sweet potato vine keeps on running. We keep hoping for sweet potatoes. The periwinkles have migrated from their original pots, to grow in clumps through the garden. The birds we feed in the morning, now bravely come through the back door grill searching among the children’s wheelchairs for more. It is a garden strong on self- determination and a symbol of the same self- determination we are trying to instill in our students. We feel strongly at the school that children should have a say in their life progressions and destinations, and this is equally important and significant in any child with challenges. Such is our garden, freedom, but within boundaries of health and necessities for survival.

S.T.E.P. Centre’s children get into the water!

Sometimes the garden is all about fun. Just before the end of last term we had a delightful water day.  It turned out to be a day full of laughter and infinite fun. The children were jumping on the trampoline while being hosed down, sitting in paddle pools and smiling as if in the sea, and throwing water balloons at each other– adults and students soaked, but all so happy under the tree. Nature play was at its best. While many observers would see only a group of kids having fun, others hopefully see all elements combining in a valuable and joyful learning experience. Certainly our students loved the time of splashing, free spirit and “naughtiness”. EVERYONE that day was well wet up and screaming for more – students and teachers alike.

Sometimes the garden serves as the muse and provider of gifts for our art projects. Why not use the nature we are blessed with and which we teach our students to appreciate and celebrate. An art activity during our recent summer program confirmed for me the need to create an environment where the children are affirmed with all their differences and given the opportunity to express themselves. Working with Allison (an artist friend) we made eight triangular wooden frames.  We presented each child with a variety of decorating options – found objects from the garden, coloured wool, wire and pipe cleaners. We adults were there only to follow the child’s decorating directions.  From this exploration, we got eight completely different creations. Their creations were as unique as each of them.

The children’s creations.
Likkle Extra from Leslie Wan…..…….

Our garden each year has become more focused and inclusive. It is part of the miracle we envisioned as we dreamed of having our own school building. Yes, way back when, it was a goal as we dreamed of our potential new school. Now all those years later we have created our vision into a reality. As an offshoot of how much we value our garden work and it’s symbiosis with our program and student involvement, we are developing a curriculum and appropriate resource material that would allow it to be used to assist and supplement other special schools and early childhood programs. We are now a part of a working group that includes our original mandate, as well as a means to support environmental and plant diversity programs in other school environs. This goal with this group also includes preserving nature and it’s beauty and conservation of our natural resources. The members of our working group include the Natural History Museum of Jamaica, Ministry of Agriculture (Public Gardens) and the Caribbean Child Development Centre at the University of the West Indies. Besides the garden education resources, we hope to also explore ways of making public gardens in Jamaica, more child friendly and educational.

So as we plant our sunflowers, flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables in our tiny garden, we are aware that this garden we have created, make the butterflies, moths, birds, bees etc come into our children’s world. We have saucers for bird baths, seeds for the birds, and butterfly and bee encouraging plants. It is so important to take our children out into the world via our nature “walks” through the neighborhood, and to bring nature into their world with us. Additionally as we have always said in the past, while our first responsibility is to our children and their advancements and educations, our mission has always included the advancement of people, places and spaces outside our own realm. We hope that other schools and children will benefit from our dedication to the natural world that we are providing for our children by sharing our dedication out into the world. Now with the help of some very important and knowledgeable partners we work towards that goal. With God’s blessings, some hopeful fertilizer and hard work, we can and will make a difference for us and hopefully the wider community – all from something so fundamental to life. 

Find your joy……….Share nature’s wonder. 


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