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University of Florida Health Children's Healing Garden

Aug 12, 2020
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When children are hospitalized, they and their families face a whole host of stressors on their health and finances. As they spend their days inside a medical center managing difficult circumstances, their mood and outlook can suffer. To address this challenge, the US Forest Service and other organizations partnered with the University of Florida (UF) Health Shands Children’s Hospital on in Gainesville to create a space where patients and their families can lift their spirits: The UF Health Children’s Healing Garden. This garden is a certified Nature Explore classroom, part of a network of nature-based play and learning spaces.

Nature art

This unique outdoor area promotes healing and wellness through connection with nature. The garden includes walking paths, butterfly gardens, ample seating, raised gardening beds, and interactive areas for engaging in unstructured exploratory play. The goal is to offer a place to relieve stress, improve mental well-being, provide distraction, encourage movement, and foster hope. Additionally, the hope is that patients and families will explore opportunities to connect with nature once they are back home.

Partners in Healing Through Nature

The Forest Service has a national-level partnership with the Dimensions Educational Research Foundation’s Nature Explore program and has sponsored the building of Nature Explore classrooms such as this one at strategic locations around the country. Shands is the second healthcare facility and the first hospital in the Certified Nature Explore Classroom network. Though Covid-19 has delayed the official opening for now, its initial development was complete in early 2020 and follows the installation of a Nature Explore classroom at the Lone Star Family Health Center in Conroe, Texas, also in partnership with the Forest Service.

The National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) partnered with UF Health and the Forest Service to host a Nature Champion Training for over 60 UF Health physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, mental health practitioners, and other medical staff. They learned about the positive health benefits of spending time in nature and about techniques that will motivate and encourage patient exploration of the healing garden. This training is part of NEEF’s Children and Nature Initiative to build capacity among pediatric health care providers to be leaders in “prescribing nature” as a method for living a healthier lifestyle.

Benches and wheeled toy area

The Garden is Only the Beginning

This project also seeks to encourage outdoor activity once patients are released from the hospital. The hope is that patients and families will also seek out further natural experiences, including visits to nearby forests and parks. The project team has developed walking maps of areas in the hospital vicinity where families can explore and are creating materials to encourage exploration of nature areas back in their own communities.

Additionally, the project will provide useful information for the Nature Explore program as the organization considers ways to adapt their outdoor classrooms for a hospital setting. The Forest Service, University of Florida, and other partners are also exploring research related to the health benefits of time spent in the healing garden.

By giving children and families a place to connect with nature as they are physically healing, UF Health and its partners hope to renew their energy, build their optimism, and encourage their ongoing connection with green spaces.

Learn more about the UF Health Children’s Healing Garden and follow updates here as the garden continues to expand.

For more information contact Annie Hermansen-Baez, US Forest Service, annie.hermansen@usda.gov.

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