Connecting children with nature for therapy support
Full Circle Therapies in Kalgoorlie-Boulder provides support and therapies to children with disability to assist with physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development. Around 152 clients aged between two and 17 years old currently access Full Circle Therapies’ multi-disciplinary services of Psychology, Speech Pathology and Occupational Therapy.
With Lotterywest grant support in 2019, Full Circle Therapies constructed a purpose-built therapy and sensory nature garden at its site in Kalgoorlie to help children meet their therapy goals and provide benefit to the broader community. This support builds on a 2016 Lotterywest grant of $75,504 towards an upgrade of the Centre and garden.
To construct a purpose-built therapy and sensory nature garden in Kalgoorlie to help children meet their therapy goals and provide benefit to the broader community.
Full Circles Therapies Inc
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- The Lotterywest team worked with Full Circle to ensure the gardens were accessible to the broader community.
- Many stakeholders and communities were engaged throughout the project and insights shared cross-organisationally.
- Other local organisations have built off this knowledge to develop their own therapy gardens and play spaces, including local schools and the Shire of Coolgardie.
- Unexpected complications are common in any construction process and in this case underground electrical cables were compromised by the groundworks.
- This reinforced the importance of having a sound project management plan. Ensuring you have a contingency plan for any unexpected complications is important in projects of this size.
In Australia one in six people live with disability and approximately 8% of children under 14 live with disability . Families of children with disabilities often require specialised support.
Full Circle Therapies Inc. is the only facility in the Goldfields region to offer specialised therapy support. Without this, many families would need to move or travel to Perth, potentially separating children and young people from their support structure and home environment.
Fun, recreation, and time outdoors in nature is important for children and young people’s development [2, 3]. Evidence also suggests that outdoor challenge-based play fosters the development of physical health and well-being, social competence, emotional maturity and communication skills for children with disability . Full Circle’s therapy services were previously conducted inside as the playground and outdoor area was unusable.
The Lotterywest Therapy Garden was designed in collaboration with Occupational and Speech Therapists to help children achieve their development milestones. The design aims to heighten children’s awareness of, and interaction with, nature through sensory integration therapy, stimulating sight, touch, smell, and hearing. It features an array of native and fragrant plants and is filled with vibrant paintings by local acclaimed Aboriginal artists Edie and Danny Ulrich.
Many elements of the project reflect the Kalgoorlie-Boulder area. “Our fort at the back is representational of the wedgetail eagle’s nest, connecting us to the local bird life. Our water piping and sand pit connects us to the Kalgoorlie Super Pit and our rocks are from local mine sites. We’ve even got the conveyor belt from local mines here which we’ve incorporated into the equipment we use for jumping and movement, connecting us to the local workforce in the area,” said Kirsty Brooks, Full Circle Therapies’ Chief Operating Officer.
As Kirsty explains, “we know that engaging in activities such as wall climbing, bouldering, jumping, running, and jogging in natural environments can help lower symptoms of ADHD for example. This helps kids gain balance, confidence and control over their behaviours and regular contact with nature can help children with ADHD in the long run.”
“Quite often we find children with autism lack core strength and aren’t able to do cross-body movement. Our Spider’s Web helps them with developing cross-body movement. It extends the therapy that we already do on the floor, like yoga and stretching, out into the nature garden. It makes it more fun for the kids.”
Impacts and outcomes
The development of the garden had both immediate and long-term positive impacts on the community:
- Between 40 and 50 children and young people engage in therapy in the garden on an average day.
- Benefits are particularly evident for children who are non-verbal with measured improvements in their ability to communicate with staff.
- Local kindergartens, youth groups and other disability support services use the space weekly.
- Open play days are held on Fridays to enable the broader community to use the space with around 30 children attending each week.
- Staff reported that it makes therapy easier, while the children themselves are excited and curious about the garden and sensory play.
Designing a comprehensive project plan
A project management plan was developed before any work started which helped the organisation manage budget and timeline constraints. Full Circle identified the need for assistance to develop the grant proposal and engaged a consultant to help this process with support from Lotterywest. “It was worth every cent to engage with a professional who knew what they were doing and has given us confidence to apply for grants on our own in the future,” said Kirsty Brooks.
Opening the garden to the broader community
The Lotterywest team worked with Full Circle to ensure the gardens were accessible to the broader community. There is now more play infrastructure for Kalgoorlie residents and Full Circle clients can practice their social interaction and play skills.
Sharing knowledge with other local organisations
Since the garden was built several local government authorities, schools and support organisations have engaged with Full Circle to explore what worked, what didn’t, and how they can implement changes to support children with disability in their communities. Full Circle has been committed to sharing their learnings and knowledge from the grant to ensure the impact is maximised. Other local organisations have built off this knowledge to develop their own therapy gardens and play spaces, including local schools and the Shire of Coolgardie. Techniques used in the garden such as visual communication boards are now also being integrated into schools in the area.
What didn’t work
Unexpected complications in the construction process
Unexpected complications are common in any construction process and in this case underground electrical cables were compromised by the groundworks. As a result, power was cut to the site and additional works were required to remove the cables, delaying the opening by four weeks. This reinforced the importance of having a sound project management plan. Ensuring you have a contingency plan for any unexpected complications is important in projects of this size.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, People with disability in Australia. 2020, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare: Canberra.
- Chawla, L., Benefits of nature contact for children. Journal of planning literature, 2015. 30(4): p. 433-452.
- Ulset, V., et al., Time spent outdoors during preschool: Links with children's cognitive and behavioral development. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 2017. 52: p. 69-80.
- Pryor, A., R. Pryor, and C. Carpenter, Outdoor adventure interventions–Young people and adversity: A literature review. 2018, Prepared for Berry Street Services by Adventure Works Australia.
Acknowledgement of Country
We acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People as the original custodians of this country, recognising their connection to land, waters and community. We respect their cultures and Elders, past and present.
Ngala kaaditj Whadjuk moort keyen kaadak nidja boodja – We acknowledge Whadjuk Noongar people as the original custodians of the land on which we are based.