Over the last few months, we’ve spent a lot of time in the garden here at Arbor Springs. While we’ve had many successes, we’ve also learned a few lessons. I’d like to take a moment and share some of what we’ve learned. Hopefully, you, too, can find the joy of gardening with your loved one in our community or your own home.

If your loved one is experiencing memory issues, it can be challenging to find activities to do together. To help everyone participate as much as possible in our community, we use the Montessori method’s teachings and practices. This enriches our community members’ experience with everyday activities and empowers them to complete mentally beneficial activities – all while having a little fun!

And all this is easy to do outside our community or in your own backyard! Many factors go into creating a space and environment that fits with Montessori teachings. However, this doesn’t mean it’s difficult or requires a lot of money or fancy products.

Setting up your activities and choosing the right ones is actually pretty simple. It can be intimidating, but I’ve got a few tips for you from working in the garden with our community members. Hopefully, they’ll help you and your loved one garden together!

Where To Start:

First of all, it is crucial always to be supportive and put up as few barriers to success as possible. Keeping an open mind and communicating is key. Being present with our community members is the most important part of gardening. How good our garden looks is secondary to working as a team and enjoying quality time together.

  • Don’t worry – Please, don’t feel overwhelmed by Montessori guided activities or the Montessori process. All you need are the core skills, understanding of the method, and a little commitment. You don’t have to buy a lot of equipment or go overboard.
  • Always ask – Before starting, it is essential to ask your loved one if they want to garden, or do any activity. If they are experiencing the early signs of memory loss or have other memory issues, convincing them to do unwanted tasks doesn’t set anyone up for success.
  • Invite them to do a task – We start by asking things like, “Would you like to …” or “Would you feel comfortable ….” Giving our community members agency is vital. No one likes feeling out of control. Choice is a wonderful gift only you can give.
  • However, make sure that choice is an easy one – We don’t ask things like, “Do you want to use the shears or the spade?” or “a watering can or a hose?” Ask if “they “would like to water.” Nothing should be too complicated or detailed.
  • Don’t put up barriers Our activities strive to be as easy to perform as possible. Set up everything and have it ready to go, ensuring few hurdles to completing the task. Those with memory loss can get discouraged easily.
  • Understand these steps are necessary for success – Having your loved one garden as part of a Montessori guided activity is not just turning them loose in the garden. We put a lot of energy into creating a positive and empowering environment, and so should you. This takes serious planning and preparation.

Where To Start With Gardening:

Preparing for an activity is very important, especially when your loved one is helping. Now that you understand the basics, here are some techniques we’ve used to make growing and tending to our garden even easier.

  • Consider not starting from scratch – If you are growing plants from seeds or those requiring more advanced care, manage these steps before having your loved one join you in the garden. As always, we want this activity to be simple.
  • Create an advantage – We look for ways to make our activities more manageable and more accessible. Buying plants or herbs that are already grown is a great way to get a quick start. Pick some up at a local store or nursery. It’s good to know what you are getting into and how healthy your plants are before starting.
  • Choose wisely – We thought long and hard about what we planted here at Arbor Springs. Some plants are more robust and often require less attention. Be sure to check each plant’s requirements, though. They are still living things that need water and care.
    • Pick veggies such as-
      • Peas
      • Zucchini
      • Squash
      • Cherry Tomatoes
    • Choose any variation of these herbs that are a bit tougher –
      • Mint
      • Thyme
      • Basil
      • Rosemary
      • Sage
    • Remember, you are running the show – We have a lot of help in our community. But if it’s just you and your loved one, you will need to take care of the more intensive parts of gardening and ensure that everything is thriving. This allows everyone to be in their comfort zone and makes gardening a more enjoyable experience.

Once You’re In The Garden:

You’ve got a lot to get you started. How about some tips to involve your loved one and keep them interested? That’s where the Montessori method truly shines. So how do you integrate Montessori into your everyday gardening?

  • Have your loved one perform simple tasks that don’t require extensive choices. Some examples we practice here at Arbor Springs are –Set up all the watering in a line –
      • If your plants are in pots, take the pots down and line them up, making it easy to just water in a straight line. If you are beginning to set up your garden, be sure to keep this in mind.
      • Don’t do things that require multiple steps (picking and sorting veggies and herbs, watering and trimming, etc.)
      • Don’t do things that require advanced decision-making. Tasks like weeding may be too much, as each plant must be evaluated and a more complex assessment must be made.
    • Have them pick plants or pinch off herbs –
      • Find simple activities like pulling up carrots, picking squash, or deadheading.
      • Make sure they understand and feel comfortable with which plants and veggies to pick.
      • You should help with the sorting after harvesting. Don’t make your loved one feel bad about picking a few under-ripe ones. We can take care of this later.
    • Whatever task you choose, have it be achievable and straightforward – Giving them these simple successes is key to engaging in positive and productive gardening.

Beyond Just Gardening (Additional Montessori Tips):

At Arbor Springs, we implement the teachings of Montessori in everything we do. While these strategies are great for gardening, we’ve found they work for any activity and in daily living as well.

  • Have a positive attitude – Be mindful of your body language and your verbal responses. It can be frustrating guiding loved ones through these activities. Stay positive, and keep them positive.
  • Be mindful of how you ask your questions – Phrase things in a way that makes them comfortable. Instead of saying, “Do you remember what we planted yesterday?” we say something like, “We did an awesome job planting the squash yesterday.” These types of questions will reinforce the excellent job done before and express that it is achievable again today.
  • Pay attention to your loved one – If they seem frustrated or confused, it’s time for a break. Remember to offer this as a choice as well: “Would you like to sit down for a moment?” or “Would you like me to finish that for you?”
  • Your loved one will make mistakes – And that’s okay! We all make mistakes, even under the best circumstances. When this happens, be sure to correct them positively and try not to be discouraging.
  • Get help! – If you find any part of this activity or specific types of communication a challenge, have someone else help you. Often a younger grandchild or another family member knows how to better communicate with your loved one. Don’t feel bad about this; ensuring you have all the best people involved allows your loved one to have a great experience. We rely on our extensive care team here at Arbor Springs. Don’t feel bad about making a little team of your own!

That’s It!

We had a blast gardening together this year. Following these tips can help you and your loved one enjoy a wonderful time in the garden as well. And you can do it without special Montessori tools, workbooks, or buzzwords. This is the real work that goes into using the Montessori method to create enjoyable and enriching activities.

In our future posts, we will continue to explore different activities, techniques, and the background of Maria Montessori and her methods. Check back with us for more or reach out today. Our care staff is well versed in the Montessori method and how it can benefit you and your loved one. We would love to talk with you about it anytime!