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Bedside Nature Activities

by Charles A. Sourby, MS Ed. CTRS-HTR

Using Nature activities at bedside enhances therapeutic recreation programs in health care settings. This implies using nature activities in indoor settings to facilitate treatment goals. As therapists, we are concerned with enriching & expanding coping skills using this novel environment, thus adding to the individual’s capacity for enjoyment. We try to “excite” the participant to learn by providing an active, stimulating educational transfer where preferred learning style can be magnified. We seek to stimulate natural curiosity and thinking ability through certain games, activities, challenges, crafts & sensory awareness. Bedside Nature activities seek to develop a program that promotes knowledge & understanding of the natural world.

We strive to develop an awareness, appreciation & affection for Nature. Borrowing from environmental education, we hope to develop a desire upon fundamental understanding to protect, safe guard, and use wisely the living and non-living resources of the Earth. Environmental education & therapeutic recreation activities at bedside seek to promote wholesome & productive activity. We seek to add a new dimension to physical as well as mental health.

We can provide participants with opportunities to discover abilities, increase empathy and appreciation, and address clinical goals as part of a larger therapeutic plan. A bedside Nature program enhances academic, social and aesthetic growth of all individuals.

We try to encourage participants to develop a concern for others and a sense of personal awareness through “direct experience”. The primary emphasis is the greater use of natural materials as a learning resource. We are always looking for that teachable moment. Learning is an interdisciplinary as well as multidisciplinary activity encompassing many aspects of the natural world. Thus, bedside Nature activities enhance learning and can act as a life enrichment process enabling all to further appreciate and understand the world in which they live.

Sometimes it seems like clinicians, are at a loss trying to teach environmental education at bedside. We may ask ourselves why teach those who are “too sick” or confined to a hospital bed due to illness. Regardless, we try to address basic the human appreciation of the scent, color or texture of a flower, the shade of a tree, the taste of fresh water and the warm sun upon our face; for that alone we share the natural world for people who cannot any longer participate in outdoor activities.

Ideally one has access to a fully equipped Nature room, a decent budget, and a recreation therapist who is motivated and excited about Nature. The Nature room is where you can keep supplies for visiting patients at bedside. One needs a rolling cart to bring materials to the patient room. The patient’s room needs a bulletin board to place reminders & projects. A patient who participates in bedside interventions benefits from having his or her room decorated thematically. Using photographs, diagrams and completed projects so the therapist can reinforce session outcomes.

For bedside activities that require the use of soil mix or other dirt producing byproducts, a Rubber Maid “tidy-tray” can be helpful to collect debris and help keep the bed area clean. The therapist often uses a rolling Nature cart for bedside visits that contains a sample of items from the natural landscape. This provides a link to the outside world and can include flowers, leaves, stones, bark and any other suitable material. A CD player of natural sounds is also good to have on hand.

Ultimately, bedside Nature activities increase our repertoire as recreation therapists. Nature supplies are available through out the year just outside of the facilities in which we work. By focusing on Nature, we greatly enhance the environment in which our clientele live and heal.

Approaches to Bedside Nature Activities:

1. Determine what population you are working with.
2. Go through you resource material and select activities that seem appropriate.
3. Organize these activities into a specific format or schedule. Make any necessary changes pr modifications in the activities that will help the participant succeed more effectively.
4. Remember that anybody shies away from activities that seem too hard or threatening.
5. Meet participants “where they are at.”
6. Natures encompass a diverse range of activities: a general, well rounded program is possible for any population.
7. Be flexible: have a back-up activity.
8. Be sensitive: keep an open mind.
9. Show enthusiasm: it’s catching.
10. Keep focused on projects at hand

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