Life Lab

Life Lab cultivates children's love of learning, healthy food, and nature through garden-based education.

Independent Stations – Caretaking and Observations

A garden classroom is wonderful space for children to "take ownership" of a corner of their school. Here are examples and resources for independent stations that contribute to garden caretaking and/or engage students in the scientific practice of observation. Many of these stations become part of our "garden chore" routine that we do for the first 10 minutes of garden class.

These activites are ones that can be repeated over time and can contribute to garden care. For similar activities with less of a learning/caretaking angle check out our "Back Pocket" Activities – Quick and Easy Garden Activities every garden coordinator should have in their "back pocket".


Weather Observation and Recording

There are many ways to track and observe the weather. The followiing video and charts are how I have students observe and track the weather. I have found that 2nd grade and up can do this independtly. Using a minimum/maximum thermometer allows us to track the high, low and current temperature data which could be graphed to show school year trends. Graphing, interpreting and reporting on garden data is a good rainy day activity.

Weather Data Sheet Letter Size

Weather Date Sheet 11x17in

Compost Building and Monitoring

Our FoodLab cooking kitchen produces and saves kitchen scraps to be composted and fed to our worms. In addition to lunchroom kitchen scraps a local restaurant saves salad prep scraps in 5 gallon buckets for us to build compost. Each week 4-8 5 gallon buckets of greens are added to our composting systems. We purchase a strawbale that sits next to the compost bin as "browns".  3rd grade and older students follow this procedure to compost and record data with the help of a compost thermometer. This data is saved and graphed on rainy days. Learn much more about school-based composting. 



  1. Spread new (green) material evenly on top of pile. Chop with spade.
  2. Cover food wastes with a thin layer of finished compost.
  3. Cover all new (green) materials with a thin layer of straw (brown).
  4. Rinse and scrub food waste buckets clean.
  5. Water your new layer with the bucket rinse water or spray your new layer with hose.

Compost sifting with small plastic trays. We have used nursery trays, sections from stacking worm bins, and bulb crates as sifters. Composting sifting is a good "early finisher" project or an independent station.

Flower Boquets and Deadheading

Each week a class is responsible for cutting bouquets that are placed on our lunch room tables. We use empty Martinelli apple juice bottles as vases.  They are short which is good for the lunch room tables. Larger vases are also filled each week for our lunchroom staff and front office. A milk create is used as a flower tote. We have four rules for making a good bouquet. We review the following rules every week. All grades are able to cut and arrange flowers.

  1. Select young, not old or fading flowers
  2. Cut the longest stem possible, you can always shorten it once you put it in the vase
  3. Remove leaves from the stems so they don't rot in the vase
  4. Use care when handling hand pruners


When we are deadheading flowers with dried seeds we often have bags labled with flower varieties to save the dried seeds. Learn more about seed saving and making seed envelopes.

Worm Care

Younger grades are often very attacted to worms and caring for them. Having a specific grade level task associated with being the "worm warnglers" (caretakers) works well. Having worm bin bingo or identification cards with magnifiers is a nice addition to an independent worm station.

Learn more about caring for worms and teaching about vermi-composting.



Habitat Boards

Habitat boards are nothing more than a 2 foot x 3 foot (or similar size) piece of plywood placed on the ground. The board is labeled habitat board on the upward facing side and is placed in an area with minimum disturbance. Students visit the board everytime they are in the garden and record and observe changes under the board. Often we find different types of bugs under the board. This is a good early finisher task or could be used as an observation station rotation.


Spring Fruit Tree Observations

In the winter and spring we observe dormant tree buds beginning to swell, leaf and/or flower. Teams of students visit the same tree over the spring and make observations for 5 minutes before garden lessons. Additionally we can use these tree observation teams for grade level tasks such as mulching, fertilizing, and fruit thinning. We usally mark a 8-12 inch section of branch with two pieces of masking tape with a few buds inbetween the taped sections. We use an observation sheet like this one as the buds develop. SpringAppleTreeObservation

























































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In 2016, you helped us bring 30 leaders from across the nation together for a first-ever Leadership Institute for School Garden Support Organizations.

The results are in on the work they have achieved together. In 2017, these 30 leaders collectively trained 463 teachers who teach over 10,000 students every year. And after their trainings, 98% of those 463 teachers reported an increase in their motivation and confidence to engage students in hands-on, experiential learning in a garden setting.

Do you know what that means?! That means more and more kids getting meaningful experiences like the students above! That’s why, in January of 2018 we’ll be hosting another Leadership Institute, this time for 50 leaders who will be coming in from all across the US, including leaders from Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Because every child everywhere deserves the chance to discover a love of learning, healthy food, and nature. We can’t wait to see what these leaders accomplish in the year to come!

#isupportlifelab, #neverdoubt, #allchildrendeservethis,
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Late afternoon light at the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems is the best time of day. Add aerial video and fall colors and you get a real nice video. ... See MoreSee Less

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Today is the 174th birthday of Gertrude Jekyll, a British horticulturist, garden designer, artist, and writer. She created over 400 gardens in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States.

"A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust." -Gertrude Jekyll
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A heartfelt thank you to our generous community for all of your support on #GivingTuesday yesterday! We celebrate all of YOU this #ThankYouWednesday--with your partnership, we are growing healthy, inspired children!
#isupportlifelab, #grateful
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Over the past four years, the amount of mobile screen time has tripled in kids under eight. Our programs get kids outdoors in gardens and farms where they are physically active and learn to love nature!

"We will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught." - Baba Dioum

Will you join us today for #GivingTuesday in providing opportunities for children to love nature?, #isupportlifelab, #nature, #beapartofit
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The next generation of problem solvers will come from tomorrow's scientists. We partner with five schools in Watsonville to spark the curiosity of over 3,000 students in our school garden and field trip programs. Another 2,500 students engage in hands-on, garden-based learning at our Garden Classroom in Santa Cruz, too.

"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing." - Albert Einstein

You can influence real change today by supporting Life Lab for #GivingTuesday., #isupportlifelab, #beapartofit, #cultivatingthescientistsoftomorrow, #donate,
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Life Lab has been the most innovative and relevant organization in this field. From providing the best curriculum to their cutting edge professional development, we have relied on Life Lab as our go to organization for support, ideas, and collaboration.
Rachel PringleSenior Director of ProgramsEducation Outside
Life Lab provides truly inspiring training. Their breadth of experience, joy for teaching, and commitment to sharing knowledge highlight the best practices in food and garden education.
Erica CurryTraining and Professional Development ManagerFoodCorps
Thank you for such a wonderful field trip experience! Your leaders did such a great job at keeping our kids engaged.
Sheila BrickenKindergarten TeacherSan Lorenzo Valley Elementary
Terry had another awesome two weeks at Life Lab. I think he learns more there than in any other part of his year. School is great, but he’s passionate (and often dogmatic) about what he learns there.
Tara NeierCamp ParentSummer camp mom