Week 19- Autism and Nature
I had the opportunity to lead a nature walk around the garden at Leo Politi Elementary School. The school is between Koreatown and Downtown so it is not near vast green spaces. In 2009, my high school, Dorsey High, collaborated with the elementary school students and other volunteers to begin a transformation of an empty lot to a native garden at the school. Six years have passed and the plants and the garden space are thriving. This space allows for many educational activities for the kids to learn about plants, birds, insects, and the urban ecosystem in general.
During the summer, Leo Politi offers classes to students with autism and other learning disabilities. This was the first I have worked with autistic kids so I was excited to develop an educational plan for the first graders. Ms. Nakata, their amazing teacher, advised that their attention span is very little but they love the garden. Therefore, I decided to focus on our senses during my nature walk. In the beginning, I asked the students what our senses are and sure enough they responded,”looking, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting”. I told them we weren’t going to taste anything but we were going to use all other senses. The garden had White Sage, California Sagebrush, and California Buckwheat. We all gently touched the plants to compare texture and smell. Every now and then, they would get distracted but most of the distractions were still about nature. At some point while I was talking, one kid saw a spider and hauled all other kids to look at the spider. I also joined them to observe the spider. Because they seemed intrigued by the spider, I took them where the milkweed was and showed them the beetle that feasted on the plant. I took one bug for a closer look so they can observe colors and size of the beautiful bug which was red and black. After about fifteen minutes, we all sat down and as we sat, two hummingbirds perched in a tree above us. We were all excited as they haven’t seen “Little Leo” as they named one of them. I was glad that “Little Leo” and his partner visited us at that precious moment. After taking a break, I gave a pair of binoculars to the students and we all bird-watched for a while. We saw three Mourning Doves perched in the garden which was great because as mentioned, this school is in the middle of the city so it’s great to find other birds other than the common pigeon to utilize the amazing garden space. The kids had a great time and I’m glad I had the opportunity to share a daily dose of nature. As mentioned in one of my other blogs, nature is for everyone and it was exciting to see the students get into. I’d like to thank Sharon Nakata for giving me this opportunity and for being so resourceful.