Gardens For Kids: What Is A Learning Garden

By: Mary Ellen Ellis

Gardens for kids can be great learning tools, but they are also fun and practical. Teach your children about plants, biology, food and nutrition, teamwork, weather, and so many other things just by growing a garden together.

What is a Learning Garden?

A learning garden is typically a school garden, but it may also be a community garden or even just a family’s backyard garden. Regardless of location and how many people are involved, gardens for education are outdoor classrooms, gardens designed specifically to get children involved and to teach them a variety of lessons.

There are many lessons that can go into a learning garden, and you can design yours to be focused on one or two, or on a variety. For instance, you might want to start a garden with your children to teach them about food and nutrition or about self-sufficiency. Improving kids’ diets, for example, could help in the fight against obesity. Getting kids involved in growing vegetables can help them learn to like the things they grow, making it easier to get them to “eat their veggies.” In some cases, kids may even ask mom or dad, “Can we have a garden?”

Gardens for kids may be more focused on science, how plants grow and how they are part of a larger ecosystem. And, who knows, perhaps one day these children could even persuade school cooks to incorporate produce from their school gardens into school lunches.

How to Make a Learning Garden

Making a learning garden doesn’t have to be much different from any other garden. Here are some learning garden ideas to get you started:

  • Start a vegetable garden to get your kids involved in their own nutrition and to encourage better eating habits. Extra harvested vegetables can be donated to a local soup kitchen, teaching kids important lessons about giving.
  • A native plant garden can help your kids learn about their local ecosystem and how plants support insects, birds, and other animals.
  • A hydroponic or aquaponic garden is a great way to teach science lessons, like how plants get nutrients.
  • A greenhouse garden allows you to grow plants year round and to grow those plants you might not otherwise be able to due to your local climate.

Any type of garden, big or small, can be a learning garden. Start out small if the idea is overwhelming, but most importantly, get the kids involved in it. They should be there right from the start, even helping with the planning.

Kids can help plan and use math skills and elements of design. They can also get involved with starting seeds, transplanting, fertilizing, watering, pruning, and harvesting. All aspects of gardening will help kids learn a variety of lessons, planned or not.

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Early Introductions to Sensory Gardens: Infants and Toddlers

Infants learn about the world through their senses: touch, sight, sound, taste, and smell. Creating safe, diverse and developmentally appropriate outdoor learning environments can offer benefits across curriculum and developmental areas.

The key to creating positive experiences in outdoor learning environments lies not only in the physical environment but with the modeling and behavior of caregivers. Just as infants learn about relationships from how people touch/hold them and from the tones of voice or facial expressions, this is also how they learn about their relationship to the natural world around them.

Early sense of trust is not limited to having basic needs met, but also feeling safe in a variety of environments. As a caregiver, you have the opportunity to help infants form positive relationships with both humans and the natural world. Creating safe outdoor learning environments that offer infants and toddlers the opportunity to explore and experiment with the natural world must be combined with caregivers who are willing and able to let children interact with their environment and model that interaction themselves.

Infants and toddlers are often thought of as “too young” to be involved in gardening, but they can be engaged through watering, harvesting, digging, and exploring worms, insects and birds. The best way to help these ages benefit from a garden experience is through their senses.

Sensory Garden Components and Ideas

Interactivity – Design sensory gardens to encourage interaction with the environment.

  • Sitting, standing and climbing areas may include benches, logs, platforms, and bridges. Most interaction with a garden will happen at ground level, but a secondary level offers older infants and toddlers opportunity to “pull up” and explore.
  • Create opportunities for children to move through the garden. Being “in” the garden is more engaging than looking “at” it.
  • Consider a variety of places for the infants and toddlers to walk and move. Paths and defined areas may have different types of surfaces – sand, flagstone, wood chips, etc. – as well as a variety of inclines, steps, etc.
  • Include a sand box and/or a designated “dirt digging spot” in a shaded area.
  • Integrate a sensory garden throughout a playground area, intermixed with slides or climbing structures.
  • Grow edibles. What better interactive sensory experience than eating?! Edible plants are not only safe features on a playground (ensure the whole plant is edible), but can also be integrated into meals or snack time to broaden the experience.
  • Include classroom or outdoor activities in which children help create parts of the outdoor learning environment or garden. Even young children can help plant, make a scarecrow, create a mural, water plants, or scatter birdseed.
  • Create child size places, such as vine covered hide-a-ways or tunnels.

Sight – Color, shape, visual texture, movement, light and shadow. When planning year- round sensory experiences for children incorporate colors, shapes, light and special features throughout the year.

  • Plant flowers of varying colors that bloom at different times of the year.
  • Include red-leafed, soft, grey foliaged and variegated plant varieties.
  • Make use of contrast, such as clustering plants of different shapes, sizes and colors.
  • Consider planting long grasses or ‘weeping’ tree varieties that will move in a breeze.
  • Include plants and features that appeal to butterflies, such as herbs or flowering trees and shrubs.
  • Use trees and plants to screen visually unappealing areas.
  • Choose trees and shrubs that attract birds (you can include a bird feeder on a branch) and that change their foliage in autumn.
  • Consider the view from inside the classroom and include interesting plants, flowers, or birdfeeders that children can see from the windows.
  • Potted plants don’t have to be confined to traditional pots. Be creative and use items such as old shoes, a wheelbarrow, or playground equipment.
  • Integrate mobiles, mirrors or sculpture into outdoor environments.

Sound – Many sounds in a sensory garden don’t need planning, such as the sound of wind rushing through the leaves, rustling grasses or singing birds. But, to enhance the variety of sounds you may include:

  • Dripping or trickling water
  • Wind chimes (homemade or store bought)
  • Encourage birds into your garden with a birdbath, nectar or non-toxic berry producing trees and plants
  • Quiet places (sometimes sounds are too overwhelming)

Touch – Think texture:

  • Include soft flowers, fuzzy leaves, springy moss, rough bark, succulent leaves, and prickly seed pods.
  • Choose hardy varieties of plants that can cope with handling. Place delicate flowers and plants in hard-to-reach places.
  • Place plants and trees close to walkways so children walking along the path may be brushed by foliage.
  • Don’t cut low-hanging tree branches unless they are a safety hazard.
  • Some species offer a variety of textures within a single plant, such as a southern magnolia, with leaves slick, shiny, and dark green above, and soft, felted brown beneath.
  • Intersperse rocks, wood, fabric or toys of different sized, shaped and textures.

Smell – Smells don’t just have to come from blooming flowers. When planning a sensory garden for infants and toddlers, think about both strong and subtle smells that they may explore directly or indirectly.

  • Plant flowers with subtle smells that require you to stick your nose into the petals, such as violets.
  • Consider planting a non-slip creeper or herb on or near a path so that, when you walk on the plant, it will release a beautiful aroma – for example, thyme or mint.
  • Don’t clump too many aromatic plants in the one area, as the confusion of different scents will be overwhelming. Space scented plants at intervals around your garden.
  • Choose plants that are pollinated by birds or insects rather than plants that release their seeds into the air. This will help any children who suffer from hay fever or asthma.
  • Introduce fresh mulches, wood shavings, grass clippings, etc. which may have new scents.

Taste- A favorite sense. Everything in an infant and toddler garden should be edible, or at least non-toxic.

  • Consider buying small fruit trees for your garden.
  • Edible flowers are not only beautiful but safe plants for the playground.
  • Grow veggies and herbs in your school yard and use them in cooking or sensory experiences in the classroom.
  • Early introduction to fresh, healthy foods will have an important impact as children begin making their own food choices.

This article was compiled with information from the following pages:

Garden Theme Learning Activities and Learning Shelf

We had so much fun learning at home with all the Garden theme learning activities and our Learning Shelf. Here’s a summary post of all the activities we did for this month.

Garden Theme Learning Shelf

  • Pinterest Idea Board: GARDEN Theme
  • Unique Hashtag on Instagram: #gardenhts
  • Focus Book: Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert and From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons

This learning shelf and the activities are created for children of ages 1.5 years old to 6 years old.

All the activities have been categorized into the six main learning areas (language, numeracy, motor skills, discovery of the world, arts & creative expression, social & emotional development) that I am focusing on for my children.


  • Dot the Flowers Color Matching Activity (arts & creative expression)
  • Pouch Cap Flowers Counting Box (numeracy, fine motor)
  • Dot Paint Flowers Painting (arts & creative expression)
  • Petals Counting Activity. This is a simple activity to do number matching. (numeracy)

Bonus: This printable can be found on my subscriber-only Printable page. As a bonus for joining my mailing list, you get access to ALL my printables. Get them here>>


  • Plant your Name Activity. My son matched the letters to his name as he planted the flowers in the flower pots. (language)

  • We did a second variation of the Plant your Name Activity with play dough. Using the same flower sticks, my son matched the letters to the letters on the play dough. I imprinted the letters on the dough with letter beads. (language)

  • Peg a Bee Counting Activity. The flower has a Velcro in the centre and my son chooses a number and sticks it on the flower centre. Then he pegs on the corresponding number of bees. (numeracy, motor skills)

  • Leaves Counting Activity. My boy chose a number as the flower centre and stuck on the corresponding number of leaves. The leaves were cut out from a piece of green foam sticker. (numeracy, motor skills)

  • Paper Clips Flower and Leaves Counting (numeracy)
  • Invitation to Create Flowers with felt shapes cut outs. (arts & creative expression)

  • Flower Parts Puzzle. Learn about flower parts with this printable. (discovery of the world)

Bonus: This printable can be found on my subscriber-only Printable page. As a bonus for joining my mailing list, you get access to ALL my printables. Get them here>>


  • Make some beautiful coffee filter butterflies. Add some water color on coffee filter and let dry. Tie the centre with pipe cleaners. (arts & creative expression)

  • Garden Sensory Bin using black beans as fillers, flower pots and gardening tools. (discovery of the world)

  • Use everyday vegetables to make out a flower. This is a simple yet effective activity about the different parts of a plant. My son is fascinated to learn that some vegetables like broccoli and carrots were flowers and roots respectively.

  • What better way to learn about plant growth than to grow some plant ourselves? I found these grass and flowers grow kits from a local store. My son planted the seeds. Everyday, he watered the soil and observed the flowers and grass grow. We talked about the conditions that are essential for his plants to grow and what happen at each phase of plant growth. (discovery of the world)

  • Invitation to Create a Flower Potion. I set out some flowers and colorful pebbles and invited my children to make ‘flower potions’. The combination of things that float and sink added some interesting STEM discussion to this activity. (arts & creative expression, discover of the world)

  • Make a Nature Collage with all the nature things you can find in your garden. (arts & creative expression)

  • Gardening Pretend Play. I made a ‘garden’ at our sand pit using some fake flowers and provided the children with gardening tools. The children picked the fake flowers and ‘planted’ them in flower pots. (discovery of the world, arts & creative expression)

This is such a perfect theme to do during Spring. Need more theme based learning ideas? Be sure to check out the rest of our theme learning activities and shelf!

Join my mailing list and download this free guide: 9 Simple Ways to Spark a Love of Learning in your Children. Join now !

Watch the video: What is a garden?

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