Life Lab

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

Life Lab’s Effective Outdoor Management Handout (Two page PDF or view text below.)

More resources on effective outdoor management:

  • Observe School Garden Lessons taught by veteran garden instructors
  • View our Easy “Back Pocket” Activities that all garden teachers should have ready to share. Many of these work well as independent learning garden stations.
  • Download descriptions of two of our favorite ice breakers, Group Juggle and Lighthouse, from The Growing Classroom
  • edWeb’s Growing School Garden Community Webinar on Outdoor Classroom Management, presented by Life Lab’s Education Director Whitney Cohen.
  • FOSS Science Curriculum and The Boston Schoolyard Alliance teamed up to create Taking FOSS Outdoors Folio, a 28 page guide for teaching science outdoors. Their site also has videos of teachers instructing outdoors.

How Can I Possibly Manage 30 Kids Outdoors in a Garden?

Outdoor classroom management is an integral part of a successful school garden program. Many teachers find it challenging to work with their classes outside because of students’ high energy and the distractions that exist outdoors. When we are able to channel students’ energy and enthusiasm toward focused learning activities, however, and use “distractions” — such as spider webs, birdcalls, or ripe strawberries — as teaching tools, then the garden becomes an exceptionally effective and exciting space for learning. Ultimately, a well-managed garden provides teachers with new ways to motivate students and demonstrate concepts, and provides students with abundant opportunities to explore the natural world, apply skills learned in multiple academic areas, discover the joys of healthy eating, and work together. Educators have identified the following management strategies for making garden-based learning effective and enjoyable.

Tone Setting, Comfort, and Routine

The school garden is a unique learning environment, with activities that are usually more structured than recess, but also often more physical and open ended than those done in the classroom. In order to set the tone of this new learning environment:
• Design the garden so that it is easy for students to follow the rules. For example, make pathways wide, mark beds clearly, and create a labeled and organized space to store all tools.
• When introducing the garden, use language that reflects the goals of the space, such as “garden classroom” or “living laboratory.”
• Clarify for yourself and then for your students what types of behaviors are appropriate in the school garden, and how expectations and consequences will be similar and/or different from in the classroom. For example, informal conversation is often more welcome in a school garden than in a classroom, but put downs are not allowed in either location.
• Create and follow predictable routines, such as starting each class by gathering in a circle to talk about the main idea and activities for the day, and review behavior expectations.
• Discuss the importance of staying safe and respecting all living things, including plants, animals, one another, and the adults in the garden. Enlist students’ ideas to establish a simple list of garden rules toward this end, as in the illustrated sample.
• When using tools, establish and model safe use of those specific tools. Some sample tool rules include:

  • Keep the pointed end below your knee at all times.
  • Always walk when moving with a tool.
  • Clean and put tools away when finished working.

• Establish a call back signal, such as a coyote howl or a ringing gong, to let students know when it is time to rotate groups or return to the circle.
• Help students stay comfortable: When you’re addressing the group, wear a sunhat and look into the sun so that they won’t have to. A shaded gathering area can be very helpful. Also consider other equipment, such as work gloves for hands and carpet squares for kneeling or sitting on the ground.

Foster Students’ Sense of Ownership and Buy In

• Start your year out with something highly engaging, like harvesting and eating Six Plant Part Burritos or feeding the worms in the worm bin.
• Provide plentiful opportunities for students to harvest and eat from the garden, and also to use tools they can manage.
• Look for opportunities to provide students with choices. They may be able to choose, for example, which chore to work on or which seeds to plant.

Cooperative Learning

• Give students opportunities to practice cooperative learning skills, such as listening and sharing responsibilities. The first chapter of The Growing Classroom is full of activities designed to encourage these behaviors.
• Divide students into small groups for hands-on activities. In some instances, all the groups might be doing the same thing in different parts of the garden. In other instances, you might have multiple stations for groups to rotate through.
• Make sure that everyone in a group has a clear task. For example, a group building a compost pile might have a browns team, a greens team, a soil team, a waterer, some choppers, and some corner monitors, each with clear roles for contributing to the pile.
• Balance quiet, reflective activities with active, hands-on activities.
• When possible, use support from other school staff, parent or community volunteers, university students, or other invested adults to reduce the adult-tostudent ratio in the garden.
• Consider buddying a younger class with an older class for cross-age-tutoring out in the garden.

Be Prepared

• In addition to your planned activities, have a set of “back pocket activities” ready to go, in case a student or group finishes their task early or requires some redirection.
See Back Pocket Activity Videos mentioned above.
• Keep a first aid kit, sunscreen, and drinking water in your garden.

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2 days ago

Life Lab

It was such a pleasure reconnecting with all the garden educators from the Santa Cruz area yesterday. You all are doing an incredible job! We hoped that you all had a great time sharing your experience in working at your school’s garden. We look forward to seeing you very soon!

If were not able to make it to yesterdays Garden Educator Gathering, please sign up for our mailing list so you can keep up to date with all of our events. We have some really exciting 40th celebrations coming soon. See MoreSee Less

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4 days ago

Life Lab

Thank you to all the educators that came out and participated in our Intro to NGSS workshop. It was great meeting all of you. An extra special thank you to Edible Schoolyard Japan (エディブル・スクールヤード・ジャパン) for coming all the way from Japan to be a part of our workshop!

If you’re interested in joining our upcoming workshops click here See MoreSee Less

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1 week ago

Life Lab

Life Lab is hiring an Educator Training Specialist!!!

We are looking for an individual who is personable, approachable, and flexible nature; that has outstanding teaching and organizational skills.

Life Lab’s Educator Training Specialist will manage our on- and off-site educator workshops and lead some of our workshops. Tasks will include:

• Offsite Workshop Coordination
• Onsite Workshop Coordination
• Lead Educator Workshops
• Curriculum Development

Key Qualities of the Educator Training Specialist are:

• a deep commitment to the mission of Life Lab, which is to cultivate children’s love of learning, healthy food, and nature through garden-based education
• cross-cultural competency, with a deep commitment to equity and inclusion in education
• outstanding teaching skills
• 3 or more years of experience teaching children in a school garden or other outdoor education setting
• experience leading trainings for educators or other adult learners

If this sounds like a job made just for you please click here for more details.

Please Share if you know someone who would love the opportunity to make a meaningful impact on children’s lives. See MoreSee Less

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1 week ago

Life Lab

Looking for ideas to keep your school gardens tended and active during the summer? Are you thinking of new ways to bring garden-based learning to a community garden or farm site? Join us for a webinar on the ins and outs of running kids day camp programs on educational gardens.

Erin Jackson, Education Director at Gallatin Valley Farm to School, and Amy Carlson, Garden Education Director at Life Lab, will share their years of experience and resources for creating day camp programs.

From promotions to post assessments and everything in between, this hour long webinar will provide you with inspiration and ideas to create or enhance summer programming on your educational garden or farm.

To register click here! See MoreSee Less

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1 month ago

Life Lab

Thanks Christine at for sharing a good winter time lesson from The Growing Classroom.Christine shares a hands-on garden planning lesson using mapping, math, and scale drawing skills from one of our best-known resources, The Growing Classroom!… See MoreSee Less

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1 month ago

Life Lab
Join Us For a 2019 Life Lab Garden Classroom Workshop

~ Meet and learn from other garden-based educators

~ Be inspired by our model educational Garden Classroom Site

~ Enjoy a delicious, fresh meal

~ Take home lessons and resources to use in the garden or classroom See MoreSee Less

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2 months ago

Life Lab

Last week we were thrilled to have garden educators from around the country collaborate at our School Garden Support Organization Leadership Institute.

Will you apply next year? Pictures (and smiles) tell it better than our words can.

Thank you all for participating!Kristen and Kat spent last week at the School Garden Support Organization Leadership Institute hosted by Life Lab in Santa Cruz, California. The institute provided the opportunity for us to learn best practices in networking, sustainability, evaluation, school standards, and more from school garden organizations from all over the country. We also got to visit some truly dreamy and fully-integrated school gardens. We can’t wait to share our BIG goals and vision for OKC Harvest with you! See MoreSee Less

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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