Life Lab

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

In our responses to the editor of The Atlantic we ask that they publish The Garden,  A Master Teacher written by a Life Lab Camp parent Kristen Berhan.

Kristen writes:
One of the complex questions I have been living is the question of education. This is a question that has grown within me from my own education in the public school system and now ripens as I have the stewardship of nurturing my own four daughters. For their sakes, I have waded through the war-zone of educational philosophies with the cross-fire so thick that I could not clearly see who was wrong or who was right. At last I came upon a place of peace, where Dewey, Montessori, Steiner, Mason, Rousseau and Froebel all seem to call a truce. I have found a place where public schoolers, home-schoolers, and private-schoolers can amicably co-exist. This higher-ground is in the garden. Read more…

 

Life Lab Staff Letters to the Editor of The Atlantic
Assistant Director John Fisher wrote:

Long before Alice Waters gummed her first bite of solid food educational experts had been hailing the value of the garden as an instructional tool. 

I will share their observations first: 

Where schools are equipped with gardens … opportunities exist for reproducing situations of life, and for acquiring and applying information and ideas in carrying forward of progressive experiences. …..they [gardens] are a means for making a study of the facts of growth, the chemistry of soil, the role of light, air, moisture, injurious and helpful animal life, etc. …Instead of a subject belonging to a peculiar study called ‘botany,’ it will then belong to life, and will find, moreover, its natural correlation with the facts of soil, animal life, and human relations… John Dewey, 1944, Educational reformer whose ideas have been very influential to education and social reform.

When he [student] knows that the life of the plants that have been sown depends upon his care in watering them … without which the little plant dries up, … the child becomes vigilant, as one who is beginning to feel a mission in life.Maria Montessori, 1912, her educational method is in use today in a number of public as well as private schools throughout the world.

The pupil will get the clearest insight into the character of things, of nature and surroundings, if he sees and studies them in their natural connection … the objects that are in closest and most constant connection with him, that owe their being to him … these are the things of his nearest surroundings … the garden, the farm, the meadow, the field, the forest, the plain … Instruction should proceed from the nearest and known to the less near and less known.Froebel, 1826, helped lay the foundation for modern education based on the recognition that children have unique needs and capabilities. He developed the concept of the “kindergarten”, and also coined the word now used in German and English.

The garden furnishes abundance of subject matter for use in the composition, spelling, reading, arithmetic, geography, and history classes. A real bug found eating on the child’s cabbage plant in his little garden will be taken up with a vengeance in his composition class. He would much prefer to spell the real, living radish in the garden than the lifeless radish in the book. He would much prefer to figure on the profit of the onions sold from his garden than those sold by some John Jones of Philadelphia.George Washington Carver, an American scientist, botanist, educator and inventor whose studies and teaching revolutionized agriculture in the United States.

And now for my own words.

As a garden educator I have seen most of the documented experiences that school gardens provide. Kids begging their parents to serve them beets, an increase in student directed learning, and a better understanding of the basic elements that sustain us all (sun, soil, water, and air everything we eat and wear) are all common in a school garden. One experience I had stands out among all the others.

I asked my group of third graders visiting the garden to go around and state their name and favorite fruit or veggie. We got to one child who said nothing and after a short pause the other students were quick to offer “Marco hasn’t said a word at school yet… He’s from Guatamala, he’s only been here a month”. This also explained the special aid that accompanied him.

In the garden while the students were encountering the garden’s lessons, more numerous than all the pages in their text books, Marco hadn’t gone far. He was standing above a patch of strawberries, head hung low towards the dew covered leaves. I knelt down to his level, picked a berry and offered it to him with one word “fresa”. A grin came across his face as he reached for the berry and replied in a tentative voice “fresa”. Then together we said the word “strawberry”. I looked up and saw his aid behind him with tears in her eyes.

The author of Cultivating Failure, is well educated. I invite her to come for a lesson in Santa Cruz, CA and visit the some of the longest running school gardens in the country. I invite her to speak with the teachers, administrators, parents, and students who value gardens as instructional tools. I invite her to taste a soil born – sun sweetened – Alice Waters preaching – life changing – school garden grown strawberry.

I ask The Atlantic to publish The Garden, A Master Teacher as an alternate view to what was documented in “Cultivating Failure”. 
– John Fisher, Assistant Director Life Lab Science Program

Education Director Whitney Cohen wrote:
Caitlin Flannigan’s “Cultivating Failure: How School Gardens are Cheating Our Most Vulnerable Students,” demonstrates a frighteningly limited understanding of both education in general, and the role of school gardens therein. A powerful school garden program is not, at its core, simply designed to grow new foodies. Rather, the best school gardens are used as an instructional tool, much like a science laboratory or a computer lab, in which academic learning comes alive.

I taught for 5 years in a middle school where 69% of students were English language learners, and 74% were low income. When given a standard prompt from their textbooks, getting a paragraph out of many of my students was like pulling teeth. Upon returning to school, however, to reflect on a 3-day overnight field trip to a lighthouse and tide pool sanctuary, I could not get these same students to stop writing when the bell rang. They were writing because they had something to say. As a writer and former teacher herself, I would expect Flannigan to understand this fundamental concept in education: You cannot teach English and math effectively in a vacuum, devoid of meaningful content. School gardens, much like field trips to state parks or discovery museums, provide a meaningful context in which learning is brought to life. I taught a significant portion of my science classes in a school garden and other local habitats, engaging students in hands-on, project-based learning. My students’ scores on California’s standardized science tests far exceeded the overall state average and were more than double the state average for schools with similar demographics.

Like Flannigan, I am skeptical of educational reforms based on the whims or personal interests of influential celebrities and administrators, especially when the futures of our most vulnerable students are at stake. And yet, Flannigan is faulty in her assumption that school gardens are new and un-researched “fads.” School garden programs have been a part of American education at least since World War One. In fact, in the early 1990s, prior to any high profile celebrity endorsements, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded the creation and national dissemination of Life Lab Science, a garden-based science curriculum. As this curriculum took hold, it became clear that the impacts on English language learners went beyond science learning and, in 1997-1998, a NSF-funded study measured statistically significant growth in students’ standardized test scores in English language proficiency, reading, and math in classrooms that utilized a garden as a context for learning English. Today the benefits of garden-enhanced learning are continuing to be researched and, in 2007, the Journal of the American Dietetics Association (JADA) documented the positive impact of school gardens on students’ attitudes toward and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Flannigan asks her readers: “What evidence do we have that participation in one of these programs—so enthusiastically supported, so uncritically championed—improves a child’s chances of doing well on the state tests that will determine his or her future?” I would ask Flannigan first to take into account all of the evidence that she omitted from her article, as it is not my impression that either the NSF nor JADA takes research-based evidence lightly when highlighting new “fads.” I would then ask her to consider a more fundamental question: Are there not factors beyond standardized test scores that might also impact these children’s futures? Would a high test score, for example, remedy a case of Type 2 diabetes or a planet that is no longer suitable for human habitation?

School gardens certainly do not provide a comprehensive means of closing the achievement gap for all students in all schools. Research and personal experience, however, have convinced me that, in conjunction with other traditional and innovative educational practices, gardens provide one of many effective means of contextualizing academic learning, improving students’ nutritional habits, and helping them to understand the connection between human survival and the natural resources – soil, earthworms, water, etc. – upon which we depend: an understanding that may, in the years to come, prove to be more important than any other in determining these students’ futures.
– Whitney Cohen, Education Director Life Lab Science Program

View Caitlan Flanagan’s  Cultivating Failure: How School Gardens are Cheating Our Most Vulnerable Students published in The Atlantic.

 

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7 days ago

Life Lab

🌱Moment of the Month🌱

Life Lab Summer Camps are always a beautiful and nurturing way to share the interconnections of nature with children. Although our campers could not join us in the Life Lab Garden Classroom this summer, we wanted to make it possible for them to have fun at home! So our camp team assembled Summer Activity Care Packages full of materials, recipes, and advice for 225 children who had already registered for camp. They then carefully and lovingly hand delivered them to each family, occasionally getting to say Hi! from a safe distance, too.

"Thank you so much!! I have tears in my eyes. Thank you for pooling your ideas together for non-screen fun and learning opportunities. We can’t wait to dive in!
With much gratitude,"
Ellie

We are grateful to each and every camp family for their kindness, generosity, and patience as we all navigated the new realities of this year. As a community, the camp families even donated more than $12,000 of their camp fees towards ensuring that Life Lab will continue cultivating children’s love of learning, healthy food, and nature through garden-based education during this challenging time.

While we cannot deliver care packages to everyone in our broader Life Lab community, we hope that our growing BackPocketLearning.org website will help families seeking simple, fun, nature based activities and healthy family recipes to enjoy together at home this summer!🌈🐝🌻🌞

#lifelabmomentofthemonth #mylifelab #lifelab #summercamp #summerfun #gardenbasededucation #gardenlife #garden See MoreSee Less

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2 weeks ago

Life Lab

Our “Share Your Garden Saturday” video series continues with a sweet share from Emma Christie in the Life Lab garden at Starlight Elementary School in Watsonville🌸#shareyourgaredLL #school gardens PVUSD Food & Nutrition Services #LifeLab AmeriCorps See MoreSee Less

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2 weeks ago

Life Lab

In love with our @reneesgardenseeds flowers❤️thank you Renee for years of support & providing seeds for Life Lab gardens. We appreciate you! #reneesgardenseeds #lifelab #outdooreducation #gardensofgratitude #schoolgardens See MoreSee Less

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3 weeks ago

Life Lab

“Education is a practice of Freedom” #emancipation #juneteenth #americanhistory #blackhistory #teachablemoments See MoreSee Less

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3 weeks ago

Life Lab

Happy National Eat Your Veggies Day!😋🥕

To celebrate today we wanted to share some of our impacts this past school year. In our seven PVUSD Partner Elementary Schools, 98% of kindergarten, 1st and 2nd teachers reported that the Fall 2019 NGSS in the Garden programs improved their 1,900 students’ attitudes towards fresh fruits and vegetables, their emotional well-being, and their connection with nature.

Our Kids Cook presentation brought exciting hands-on cooking and healthy eating to more than 1,500 3rd, 4th and 5th graders at these schools, too, in January, February and March. In tastings surveys 72% of the children reported liking or loving the fresh, healthful foods they ate, with 63% said they were trying a new fresh produce item for the first time.

278 second-graders from our partner schools enjoyed hands-on learning in field trips to our Blooming Classroom this school year. 59% reported tasting new healthy food items for the first time in lesson-based tastings, and 70% said they loved or liked what they tasted.

We would also like to remind you to eat a rainbow 🌈🥗

A diverse and colorful diet nourishes a strong and healthy body. All fruits and vegetables contain different combinations of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. In addition, they contain phytonutrients, which give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors and also play a wide range of roles in keeping our bodies healthy.

Thank you to our partners and sponsors for making this work possible. @sagegardenproject @pvhealth @pajarovalleyusd
@unfi @foodcorps

#eatyourveggies #EatYourVegetablesDay #mylifelab #vegetables See MoreSee Less

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3 weeks ago

Life Lab

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3 weeks ago

Life Lab

Life Lab Stands With Black Lives.

The injustice of systemic racism must end. Our work at Life Lab to foster empathy, love and inclusion with the children who are the next generation will continue, and it is no longer enough. This painful moment is an opportunity and a catalyst for us to take the next steps to more purposefully weave antiracist learning into all that we do.

This is a time of active learning for us, as we listen and dig deeper into Life Lab’s part in historical and present-day oppression. We see opportunities to provide foundational antiracist lessons and experiences more intentionally throughout our curriculum and programs, joining with others who are on this path.

There are seeds of hope in this moment that we can nurture in garden classrooms. Our work with children, educators and schools can motivate actions, large and small, individual and collective, to help create real change for a more just society.

Black lives matter, and Life Lab commits to countering racism through education and love.

We know this process will include learning, unlearning and relearning. We welcome this collaborative work, and we will report back to you on our progress.

~ The Life Lab Team See MoreSee Less

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1 month ago

Life Lab

🥕Meet Cara, our Garden Programs Manager!🥕

Cara began her current position at Life Lab in 2014, but has worked with Life Lab in a variety of roles since 2007. While going to school at the University of California Santa Cruz, she found her calling to be an outdoor educator while interning at Life Lab in the field trip teaching program. Graduating from UCSC with a B.A in Environmental Studies and a minor in Anthropology, Cara brings 12 years of education experience to her position, specializing in environmental education and professional development for beginning educators. Growing up in Chicago, she jumped on opportunities to volunteer and work at learning institutions, such as the Evanston Ecology Center and the Field Museum of Chicago. Cara moved to Santa Cruz in 2003 and loves living in a community that appreciates healthy living, eating well, and the natural world. When she is not hard at work, she is hard at play, hiking, dancing, cooking, traveling and doing yoga.🥘🌎😁 See MoreSee Less

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2 months ago

Life Lab

Our “Share Your Garden Saturday” video series continues with a sweet share from Abby Hauth at the Life Lab garden at MacQuiddy Elementary🌸 #shareyourgardenLL #schoolgardens #lifelab @foodcorps @pvusdschoolfood See MoreSee Less

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2 months ago

Life Lab

Eat a Rainbow this Memorial weekend! Fruits & veggies provide nutrients essential for good health 🌈🥗💪🏽 #chard #carrots #schoolgardens #lifelab #eatarainbow #nutrition #gardeneducation #teachtheyouth See MoreSee Less

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Life Lab 40th
Life Lab’s 40th Gala – Sunday, October 13th  Celebrate 40 years of bringing learning to life in gardens. Learn more  
Life Lab's 40th Gala
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
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