Gardening in braille

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

The beauty of the Kitchen Garden Program is the flexibility to adapt to the needs of each student cohort and community, including schools and services with special needs and accessibility requirements.

Tenison Woods College in Mount Gambier, South Australia, have recently added braille labels to their garden signage as part of their mission to create a garden space that is as inclusive as possible. This special project was led by Declan, a student at Tenison Woods College with vision impairment. Declan collaborated with the incredible Education Support Officer team to craft the braille signage and work towards making the garden accessible to all.

We interviewed Ashleigh Flavel, one of the school’s Kitchen Garden Educators, who walked us through the school’s vibrant Kitchen Garden Program.

Q: How did the garden braille signs come about?

This was one of those on-the-spot ideas that then became a project! We were mid-lesson in making garden signs with the Year 3 class, and Declan was reading a recipe that had been converted into braille. His Co-Educator, Tanya, then suggested we create some braille to put on the signs. We were thinking this could also reduce some of Declan’s anxiety, as he understandably doesn’t like touching things if he doesn’t know what they are. We fortunately have a braille machine onsite that our Co-Educator and Declan have access to. Declan was able to create the braille on adhesive sticker paper that we then transferred onto the signs – with a quick lick of varnish they were ready for the garden!

Q: How does the team work together to make Declan, and all students, feel included in the Program and actively engaged with their peers?

We have an excellent team of staff who collaborate and plan together regularly. We place a strong emphasis on actively engaging with our students and valuing their input.

We provide them with the opportunity to influence their culinary education by seeking their preferences, whether it relates to dishes they would like to prepare, their interest in learning to use specialised utensils, or even exploring the realm of gardening and the intricacies of tending to the soil.

By actively seeking students’ feedback and incorporating their ideas, we adapt and enrich our Program to align with their individual needs and interests, promoting a dynamic and personalised educational experience.

Q: How has your Kitchen Garden Program grown and changed over the years to accommodate students who have special requirements?

At Tenison Woods, we have a fantastic team of staff who support our students with additional needs. It is at the forefront of our practice to ensure that the kitchen and garden spaces are inclusive for all. We have a wheelchair-accessible garden and designed our Program to be supportive of students who need these requirements.

Along with this, we encourage families of students with English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EALD) needs to share home recipes to grow our school's cultural awareness. We diligently ensure that all our recipes are thoughtfully tailored to accommodate the specific dietary requirements of our student community. This includes addressing allergies, such as nut restrictions, providing lactose-free options, and offering gluten-free alternatives. Additionally, we are mindful of religious considerations, and we also provide a variety of vegetarian selections to meet the diverse needs of our students.

In addition to dietary considerations, we are also adapting to the unique needs of students with neurodiversity. Our kitchen and garden offerings are designed to create an environment that is sensitive to sensory overload concerns, ensuring a comfortable and accommodating experience for all students, including those with sensory sensitivities.

Q: How has Declan’s journey in feeling comfortable and confident in the garden and cooking spaces been going?

Declan has been on a big journey; he has been blind since birth, and we have been able to support him and his family throughout his time at Tenison Woods College.

In our school space we have many accommodations in place. Declan can visit the kitchen space one-on-one, with his amazing Education Support Officer team, to familiarise himself with the space and utensils. He is learning how to use the washing machine too; we have a big focus on life skills and independence.

In each cooking lesson, Declan is provided with the recipe ahead of time in braille so he can read and interpret the ingredients and method. Declan has also brailed his measuring cups and spoons to assist him. We also have talking scales for him to weigh things in kilograms, kilolitres, and pounds. Declan has an item that hangs on the side of containers which will beep when he's using liquids and identifies when liquid has reached the top. Prior to starting cooking lessons, he spent months prior learning about the kitchen equipment, feeling them, and exploring so he understands their use. Declan and his co-educators have spent hours last year exploring the pantries using an app that can read labels back to him when he scans them!

Our garden is a large walk from the classroom, and he is supported in his journey to this space and memorises landmarks along the way, so he knows where he’s going. The garden is often a place of sensory overload, so we ensure he feels comfortable holding items, such as feeling a snail, smelling different herbs, watering the garden, along with a plethora of other experiences. Declan likes routine, so having everything stay in its place is helpful when asking Declan to find utensils or gardening equipment.

Q: Are there other ways you plan on making your garden more accessible for all students?

We are always looking for further ways to create an inclusive garden. Currently, we have a big focus on developing some action with our school’s Reconciliation Action Plan, to build more capacity in educating around Indigenous Australian culture and history.

We are also on the sustainability committee at school here, to work alongside the Middle and Senior School to create a sustainable and accessible place for all students to feel represented. This is in addition to making more inclusive signs around the school, using braille and other inclusive language.

Q: And finally, can you share a special moment with us from your Kitchen Garden Program?

We have many special moments in our Program. It is often the brief, yet very impactful moments that bring us the greatest satisfaction. Witnessing children joyfully collaborating in the kitchen and observing their growing competence in utilising utensils are moments of genuine pride. As we watch their self-assurance flourish, both in the garden and the kitchen, it reinforces our belief in the effectiveness of our Program.

The open communication maintained among parents, staff, and students are a testament to the Program's success. The wealth of feedback we have received influence these hands-on experiences. The fact that children express a desire to initiate worm farms at home, create their own plant boxes, and embark on culinary adventures is symbolic of how these fundamental, practical experiences resonate beyond our immediate community.

The Kitchen Garden Program benefits students from a range of different ages, settings, and backgrounds. It is especially valuable for students with additional needs, who may require a bit of extra support. Read more about how the Kitchen Garden Program can support students with additional needs, here, or contact our Support Team to learn how the Program can fit the needs of your school or service.

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