Life Lab

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

When kids explore Life Lab's Garden Classroom, questions naturally bubble to the surface. Giant drops of water on kohlrabi leaves, gophers peering out of their holes, and hummingbirds drinking from flower vases seem to ignite their curiosity.

We find students' questions and enthusiasm for learning absolutely invigorating, particularly in today's educational climate. With such a strong emphasis on tests to determine if students have learned the answers to various questions, the art of questioning itself appears in danger of becoming extinct. Within this context, it is a breath of fresh air to hear children asking their own questions, alive with the desire to investigate, explore, and learn. Furthermore, with so many unprecedented environmental and social challenges facing the world today, we consider it essential that future generations develop the sense of inquisitiveness, intellectual courage, and relentless desire for knowledge that comes from asking questions and seeking answers through research, observation, and experimentation. And where better to engage students in hands-on inquiry investigations than in a living, growing garden?

Take this example, from a Life Lab school garden in California: A second grade teacher had her students plant beans in containers, and then measure and graph the growth of the bean plants over time. When the plants were ready, the students transplanted them into the garden. Over the weekend, however, the plants were eaten. Anticipating her students’ disappointment, the teacher purchased new bean seedlings and announced to the children, "Our plants got eaten, but don't worry! We can start over with new ones."

But the students had questions, and wanted answers before planting another set of seedlings. "Who ate our plants?” they wanted to know. “And how can we protect these new ones from getting eaten?!"

Instead of disappointment, this teacher saw something that morning she wasn't expecting: a burning desire for knowledge. She didn't want to let this opportunity to slip by. And so she gave the students a new challenge: "Let's see if you can find evidence for what kind of animal might have eaten the plants, and then come up with ways to protect the new ones."

Her students examined the garden on hands and knees, looking for snail slime, chew marks, animal hairs, gopher holes, and other signs. They made hypotheses, and then designed plant protection systems that they thought would work. By the end of their study, the garden bed looked more like a miniature carnival than a bed of beans. There were moats around some plants, toothpick cages around others, and black boxes covering others yet. The students checked on their plants every few days, and asked to visit the garden during recess on their off-days.

During each visit, they measured the plants and graphed their growth. They hypothesized about why some grew better than others, even without pest protection. The student with the plant in the black box, for example, learned about plants needing sun and water in addition to protection.

Over the course of their experiments, the students accomplished the teacher’s original goal: To practice measurement and graphing in an engaging context. At the same time, they also learned about plant predation, making inferences based on evidence, and discovering what plants need to grow. And all the while, they were excited to be part of the learning process and eager to share their findings with others. These students were having their first taste of being scientists.

Science often makes the news when a new answer is found: an object in space discovered, a pattern established, or a cure confirmed. Therefore, science is often seen as a set of answers to be learned, understood, or memorized. Actual science, however, is much less certain. Professional scientists do not spend their days trying to memorize answers discovered by those who came before them. Rather they work to solve problems to which answers have not yet been found: "What's happening to the bees? Can we stop Alzheimer's disease? How will climate change impact the landscape over the next 50 years?" When students get to participate in the active process of looking for answers, they get a more accurate understanding of what science is. And many times, they like it much better than they thought they did when they were memorizing the names of each bone in the body.

Asking questions requires an inquisitive, engaged mind. And seeking answers requires intellectual courage, and an understanding of how to observe patterns, make inferences, test hypotheses, and analyze data. These are skills that can quickly atrophy in a school culture focused narrowly on answers. Many educators have probably seen evidence of this when they ask students new to inquiry-based learning what questions they have, and the students look back blankly, as if to say, "I don't understand. What's the right answer to that?"

Fortunately, we have also seen how quickly students can reclaim the curiosity that consumed them when they were younger and first learned to ask, “Why?” Inquisitiveness, courage, and the skills essential to the scientific process flourish in schools where problem solving is encouraged. As students ask questions, lead investigations, and share findings, teachers and parents begin to see a culture shift in their schools, and their students become active, engaged, participants in their own learning.

In the words of a volunteer garden coordinator at a school near San Diego, “I am a scientist with a Ph.D in molecular/microbiology, but I am a mom first. When I came to my son’s 2nd grade class and found that the "science" kids were doing consisted of making dinosaur dioramas, I knew the school needed to do more. I wanted elementary school students to be exposed to true hands-on science. I chose Life Lab to fill the void, because the science was sound. The Life Lab program provides true experiments for students and inspires in them a love of science.”

Whitney Cohen, Life Lab Education Director

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6 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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