Scavenger Hunt Meets Farm Exploration for Green Chimneys Student

March 30, 2018

Green Chimneys Students Benefit from OT on the Farm

On a frosty winter day, student Zach and therapist Rachael meet at the chicken coop for an occupational therapy session. Bundled in a big orange coat and hefty boots, there is no muffling Zach’s excitement; it is time for another scavenger hunt on the farm and the chill doesn’t seem to touch him.

As the 15-year-old paces within the confines of the chicken coop prep area, Green Chimneys Occupational Therapy Supervisor Rachael Chiulli revisits the hunt rules as Farm Intern Tyler checks on the last of the clues he’s hidden. This has become routine for the trio as they have spent three months on this weekly activity which is designed to help Zach work on awareness of his environment.

Zach isn’t alone in his difficulty; becoming overwhelmed by – or lost in – their own imagination or thoughts is a common challenge among students at Green Chimneys School.

While they are physically present in class, it becomes obvious that they are not aware of what is happening around them. They may look at a book, but their eyes fix on one spot and they are unable to find words or surrounding information. Students may walk into their closet and look around, but their attention has faded and the task that initially brought them there is forgotten. They may be in gym, playing baseball and while classmates are standing ready to catch a ball, they are intent on third base, unaware the ball is coming directly towards them.

Rachael and the OT team initiated farm scavenger hunts to help students with attending and detecting within the environment. Scavenger hunts inherently create a scenario where one’s attention is focused on a list of targeted items.

With that goal in mind, staff teaches students how to look around the setting in an organized manner – rather than head and eyes fixed straight ahead – in order to locate those items.

The chicken coop is a nicely contained area to start the scavenger learning process; hunt items naturally stand out against chickens and hay. Once Zach mastered that setting, the hunt branched out to larger environments with more nooks and crannies. On this particular day, Zach’s quest takes him from the coop to the senior sheep inside the barn, then out to the cow pasture and back inside the barn again. Along the way are opportunities to stop, scan, think, celebrate, refocus, and strategize.

Zach has greatly improved his ability to scan his environment and make sense of the information he is taking in. When searching for items he now looks up, down, and left to right without prompting. What took 30 minutes in searching now takes about 5 to 8 minutes.

“This has trickled into real life scenarios,” explains Rachael, “I can now place him in front of a mirror after a meal and ask him to look and scan. He can independently locate spills and messy hands or face, identify when his shirt is backwards or inside out, etc. We can play a card game with improved ability to attend and scan the opponent’s cards to plan and strategize subsequent moves.”

Students benefit when occupational therapy integrates animal-assisted activities.

Scavenger hunts are one of a variety of ways occupational therapists, speech therapists, social workers, teachers, child care and recreational staff incorporate the farm, animals and nature into therapy sessions and educational experiences for Green Chimneys students.

Learn more about our nature-based approach to education