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.

In most residential gardens, gophers cause havoc and homeowners have to contact a team like Smith’s Pest Management to come and remove them. Birds, such as hummingbirds, are often disturbed and won’t risk coming back to the garden to drink.

Not only birds but also garden pests, including caterpillars and grasshoppers, might cause a lot of destruction. Usually, grasshoppers can eat their weight in food within 16 hours, while caterpillars, before transforming into butterflies or moths, have an affinity towards leafy vegetable plants and tend to leave distinctive ragged holes on the leaves. Situations such as these, pest control services like Economy Exterminators could help you get rid of such garden pests. But, Life Lab’s garden is different! It is a thriving hub of wildlife activity.

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. The culprits were discovered to be the not-so-little gophers. They decided that they didn’t want any imposters in their garden beds. There is a lot of information online similar to this link on how to get rid of pests like gophers. They however, went a different route, and 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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3 weeks ago

Life Lab

Become a Life Lab Certified Gardener! ๐ŸŒฑ๐ŸŒปBased on the success of our first four cohorts of Life Lab-Certified Garden Educators, we are excited to announce that registration is now open for individuals to register and be part of our fifth cohort starting January 23rd, 2023! Weโ€™ve put together a series of 4 on-line courses that will guide and support educators in becoming a Life Lab-Certified School Garden Educator. Upon successful completion of the 4 courses, participants will receive a certificate and the distinction of being a Life Lab-Certified Garden Educator. Each course will last 4 weeks long and include 4 synchronous meetings, at-home work, and a unique coaching model. The total commitment for the full series is 16 weeks. Check out our website for more information! Registration for the full certification series is now open. Please share with others who are looking for ideas and inspiration in the garden! There are 24 spots available and we sold out in our last 4 certification series. We hope you can join us!Life Lab offers a limited number of course fee reductions based on need and anticipated impact. To apply for financial assistance, follow the link below. Scholarship applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis between now and December 1st, 2022 or until all funds have been awarded.

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2 months ago

Life Lab

Thanks Shmuel! and all those that joined the Starlight workday.

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7 months ago

Life Lab

www.lifelab.org/jobs Full-time Bilingual Garden Educators at PVUSD School Gardens and Summer Program Staff at Garden Classroom on UCSC Farm

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7 months ago

Life Lab

Full-time Career and Summer Staff Positions in @pajarovalleyusd school gardens and the Life Lab Garden Classroom. On the @ucscagroecology farm @ucsc @pvusdschoolfood lifeLab.org/jobs

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7 months ago

Life Lab

We are so glad to be a part of this yearโ€™s Growing School Gardens Summit! 415 attendees from 45 states across the US, representing 6,000+ school gardens serving more than 2.5 million students. Here we go!!

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9 months ago

Life Lab

Rainbow Chips ๐Ÿ“—๐ŸŒฑ๐Ÿ“™๐ŸŠ๐Ÿ“•๐Ÿ…In this lesson students introduce themselves, create group agreements, listen to a story about a rainbow, and then go on a search for different colors in order to begin to form a personal connection with the #gardenclassroom .Also, we just wanted to show this really awesome squash gradience ๐Ÿ˜„#gardenbasededucation #NGSS #scienceinthegarden #schoolgarden #NGSGintheGarden

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9 months ago

Life Lab

Food Factories ๐Ÿ…๐Ÿฅ—๐Ÿ˜‹In this lesson, students find leaves with holes in them and then construct explanations for what might havecaused those holes. They listen to a story book and add further possible explanations for the holes. Thenthey explore the garden to prepare to engage in argument from evidence about which explanation for these holes seems the most plausible. Finally, they relate this concept to plants that humans eat.#NGSGintheGarden #NGSS #gardenbasededucation

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Stock up your Garden Classroom

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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