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Self-expression takes root at Spiral Garden

For the 34th year, Holland Bloorview’s Spiral Garden will help kids’ imaginations bloom.

Over the summer this popular outdoor art, garden and summer camp program will invite more than 200 kids to let their creativity and individuality shine as aspiring artists, sculptors, gardeners, puppeteers, story tellers and theatre performers.

“Rather than art therapy we’re making art, music and playing with the kids as companions and collaborators,” stressed Garden Creative Coordinator Shannon Crossman.

But the Garden’s fun-filled activities can sometimes do wonders for kids’ outlook and well-being.

“Every kid belongs and that’s a huge part of what we do,” said Crossman. “We foster that culture of caring, that culture of everyone belonging. It gives them a chance to make friends, to participate, and to explore self-expression while developing a stronger appreciation for nature.”

No appointments please

The Garden offers a more flexible play environment to offset the sometimes structured schedules of appointments and treatments at the hospital. There’s also a big effort to avoid having any kind of medical treatment or assessment on the grounds

The Garden is the kids’ personal playground.

“Here, the kids choose where they want to go and for how long… it’s really about choice,” said Crossman. “It’s really important that they have that independence from the get-go.”

Serious fun to achieve “flow”

The Spiral Garden program is all about fun – but it’s serious fun that lets the kids be totally engrossed in what they are doing. Crossman refers to being totally absorbed as experiencing a sense of “flow.”

There’s something both nourishing and developmental happening with the kids when they are completely engaged in their activities, believes Crossman. “You can see the concentration and focus. As they create they’re not defined by their disability. They’re totally in the moment and that’s what we strive for.”

Dynamic duo of support

Creating that sense of flow are two teams. There’s the creative team – professional artists and musicians, and the care team – staff who provide personal care and support around mobility, participation and behaviour.

We all work together so we really can meet the needs of the whole child,” said Crossman. “We come at it from both angles so their physical, emotional and intellectual needs are taken care of.”

The art of not being seen

A lot of thought and planning goes into each activity which is fitted with special accommodations and adaptations.

It might be as simple as adding a paint brush to a long bamboo stick and wrapping it up with duct tape and painting on the ground, or painting from a seated position in wheelchairs,” said Crossman.

When we make those adaptations and accommodations, it gives the kids a chance to succeed. We like to set the tasks so that they are not too difficult, but not too easy so that there is an optimal level of challenge.”

For the staff, optimal performance means hardly being seen or noticed at all.

If we are more or less are invisible and you don’t see the mechanics of what we’re doing, then we’ve really succeeded,” she said.

Career choices stem from Garden experience

What is plainly visible is the amazing impact the Garden’s activities can have on kids’ lives. “Some participants have returned as volunteers here at the Garden,” said Crossman smiling.

Several Garden staff have since gone on to pursue health care careers. She knows of two staff who have become occupational therapists and another who is now a nurse.

“And they often cite their experience here for making that choice,” she said.

Spiral Garden camps and programs are generously supported by donors like you. And every year, corporate volunteers maintain the Garden by participating in spring and fall clean-up days.

The Spiral Garden program runs from July 4 to September 2 for kids ages 6-18. For more information about the camps or clean-up days, contact John Taylor at JTaylor@hollandbloorview.ca or at 416 425 6220 ext. 3317.

Five Fun Spiral Garden Facts:

  • The Garden’s most popular plant is the Mouse Melon – a Mexican plant that grows on a vine up to 10 feet high. It looks like a miniature watermelon but tastes like cucumber.
  • Spiral Garden kids have tapped a maple tree to make maple syrup.
  • The large covered pavilion is grounded or “lightning proof”.
  • A large six-foot diameter sculptural ball was woven using willow branches harvested from the site.
  • A resident gopher finds its way back to the garden every year.