Creative Kids Help Bees

Do you ever wonder where your creativity went? I am constantly amazed by the ideas children come up with when faced with a creative challenge. We adults rarely seem as clever.

I have a lot of theories on why we appear to think less creatively as we grow into adulthood. I could share these with you. Or I could tell you what one teacher in Pennsylvania is doing to inspire and reward creativity in her students. She sets a great example for educators across the country who hope to cultivate creativity in their students and empower children to take action on issues and challenges that matter to them.

This year Cynthia Kravatz and her students at Coebourn Elementary School in Brookhaven, Pennsylvania focused on “Going Green. ” They used KidsGardening’s Carton 2 Garden Contest to create a tangible product to demonstrate what they were learning and share their new knowledge with family and friends. For this, they were awarded with the Contest’s Sustainability Award.

With a focus on pollinators and a desire to help support declining pollinator populations, students created Mason Bee houses from repurposed milk cartons for their schoolyard and community members. Close to two hundred bee boxes were spread throughout the community in garden areas. Cynthia says, “Students were eager to hang them in their gardens after learning that Mason males never sting and Mason females only sting if threatened or squished.”

The Mason Bee house project is a STEM project. Students started by examining a purchased bamboo Mason Bee house. Later they watched video clips about Mason Bees and did further research about the life cycle and habits of these bees. Groups designed prototypes using only cartons. They shared their prototypes with some local gardeners who have certified pollinator gardens and experience building wooden Mason Bee houses. From them, the students learned that their prototype houses were not deep enough and needed an overhang to protect the bees from weather. Students used this information to redesign a bee house that better fit the needs of Mason Bees.

Through this project, students learned very important lessons about biodiversity and sustainable practices. Participation in this project allowed students to hone their problem-solving skills on real world problems and gave them the chance to positively impact their environment.

“Pollinators have become a buzz topic in the gardening world,” says Cynthia. “I feel our problem-solving work with recycled cartons connects students to real world needs far beyond memorizing the parts of a flower.”

About the Carton 2 Garden Contest

Evergreen Packaging and KidsGardening are proud to host the national Carton 2 Garden Contest! Open to public and private schools, contest winners are be selected based on their implementation of an innovative garden creation featuring creative and sustainable uses for repurposed milk and juice cartons.

Blog by: Emily Shipman

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Honoring a Local Garden Hero

Have you ever heard of Zinnia Weybright? I hadn’t until last month. She has a huge fan club in her hometown of Santa Monica, California. Zinnia is an eleven year old committed to growing community through the garden.

Every Sunday since 2012, Zinnia has spent a few hours working in her local community garden to provide fresh, healthy, local produce to the city’s homeless through donations to food shelves and meal sites.

That’s right – at the ripe old age of six Zinnia joined the Harvesting and Cleaning Crew at the Ocean View Farms Community Garden in Santa Monica in order to pick and prep produce and flowers for those less fortunate. Recipients of the produce say that they look forward to receiving the donations from Zinnia each week because they can tell she has prepared the food with care and love.

Zinnia is special, no doubt about that. Yet many young people who garden are also more inclined to community service. In fact, sixty-nine percent of the educators KidsGardening works with report an increase in the community spirit of their students as a result of engaging in garden-based learning. If that’s not a reason to get more kids learning through the garden, I don’t know what is.

It was an honor to meet Zinnia last month and present her with a 2017 Give Back to Grow Award. I am certain this is probably just one of the many awards this vibrant young leader will receive in her lifetime.  And I so look forward to hearing about the many ways she’ll continue to make the world a better place through gardening.

The Give Back to Grow Award is awarded annually to youth who show a keen interest in gardening and community spirit. The Award is part of the Scott’s Miracle Gro’s Gro1000 program. The Gro1000 program is founded on the premise that “When people come together in a garden, or gather on a green space, something good happens: the world and their place in it becomes more amazing, more special, more powerful. With urban and economic development at an all-time high, we desperately need to protect and grow our collective connection to nature, to the environment and to each other.”


Blog by: Emily Shipman

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I can remember very clearly the day I realized gardening had changed me. I was picking tomatoes when I saw a huge green tomato hornworm with little white bumps on it lying dormant on a leaf. A few months earlier I’d planted dill in hopes of attracting beneficial insects like wasps that are parasitic on hornworms.

A female parasitic wasp had laid her eggs just under the skin of the hornworm. These eggs hatched under the hornworm's skin and the larvae fed inside on the hornworm. When ready to pupate they chewed their way out through the skin, spun their cocoons attached to the hornworm's back, and shortly after that, emerged as adult wasps looking for new hornworms to parasitize. 

Needless to say, this blew my mind.

It was then that I realized that gardening had completely changed the way I viewed nature and its complex but beautiful processes and systems. 

All without my knowing, gardening had helped me slow down and notice things. As a result, I was more mindful of my surroundings. Being more mindful brought all kids of benefits like appreciation and gratitude—something I wrote about in an earlier post. It also cultivated my natural sense of curiosity and wonder.

All of these traits have served me well over the years—with plants and people alike. And when I feel like I need to re-connect and restore I head straight for the garden. It is such a gift to have a garden to retreat to. I wish this for everyone.

How has gardening changed your life? I'd love to hear your story. 

April is KidsGarden Month. And we’re inviting you to tell us how #GardeningChangesLives.

Share your story:

Join us!

Blog by: Emily Shipman

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Growing Young Environmentalists

When I was in elementary school in the early 1980s, environmental education was focused on catastrophes like toxic waste and rainforest destruction. While these issues remain relevant for our society at large, many have come to realize that global problems of this nature were too difficult for kids to wrap their minds around, and harder still understand what we, as young children, could do about them.

Instead, many educators have shifted to place-based education—of which garden-based learning is a part. Place-based education is hands-on, real world learning that uses the local environment to help kids understand the natural world around them and their place in it.

One place-based solution that my teachers successfully engaged my classmates and me in was recycling. It was just beginning to gain widespread adoption in the United States, and I remember that my classmates and I felt empowered and proud to be able to actually do something to contribute to the better health of our planet. We created a recycling club called the Planeteers (probably breaking some kind of trademark law) and made green t-shirts adorned with a planet encircled by smiling children holding hands.

My friends and I were pretty effective at changing our parents’ behaviors at home as well, bringing home facts and figures about the importance of recycling and getting our parents to sort plastics from metals and cardboard.

These days, recycling is well accepted at home, with curbside pick-up and no-sort bins in many communities. It’s a bit harder to do in schools and institutions, however. And many schools are still working to improve their recycling rates.

At KidsGardening, we like to engage kids in educational activities that empower them to be part of the solution. And I personally believe that for young kids, presenting global issues alongside things they can actually do to help is less anxiety inducing than discussing deforestation, for example, in the abstract.

One such program is our Carton 2 Garden contest. For three years now, we have partnered with Evergreen Packaging to recognize more than a dozen outstanding projects from across the country, featuring innovative creations designed by K-12 students and educators by re-purposing milk and juice cartons from their school cafeterias to engage students in hands-on, garden-related educational experiences.

We’re proud of this program and the young participants. It is empowering kids to think about their role in protecting the planet. And these kids are taking action: the percentage of schools that recycled milk and juice cartons prior to the Carton 2 Garden contest is just 30%. After participating in the Carton 2 Garden contest the percentage of schools that recycle milk and juice cartons is 80%! The percentage of schools that continue to save milk and juice cartons to use for special projects after the Carton 2 Garden Contest is 90%!


This program reaches nearly 7,000 students and educators across the nation every year and rewards the most innovative with cash prizes to support educational garden programs in their schools.

This type of positive reinforcement for innovative, solution oriented, pro-social behavior is exactly what kids need more of.
Would you like to participate in the 2017 Carton 2 Garden Contest? It’s not too late. Download your entry kit here and engage your students in an age appropriate place-based, environmental education.

Blog by: Emily Shipman

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Introducing Blogger, Emily Shipman

It’s hard to put into words just how much I love gardening. I’ve tried, but I always come up a little short. When you really love something, this can be frustrating, especially when you want to share this passion with everyone you know.

The combination of being outside, engaging all of my senses, and nurturing living things is so enjoyable, so rewarding. There’s nothing like it. Not to mention the pride of producing my own food.

And connecting with the cycles of nature, both on a macro scale—like the seasons— and a micro scale—like caterpillar life cycles—instills a sense of wonder and joy only comparable to raising a child.

The strange thing is that gardening was such an integral part of my life growing up I wasn’t aware of this passion until I left home and wasn’t gardening anymore. I suppose this is how it works with kids.

I grew up with a large vegetable garden and perennial beds around my house. My mom set aside small plots in each that I was responsible for planting and tending. If she had a plant in her garden that I liked, I’d divide it or take cuttings and make a small version of my own.

Children take to gardening naturally—exploring, observing, and caring for plants and soil. These kinds of activities are a normal part of a child’s learning and development and reinforce traits that while less common in adults, benefit them greatly. The empathy, wonder, and curiosity cultivated in the garden create kids who are happier, healthier, and more connected to their community and the natural world.

When I met the KidsGardening team for the first time, I felt understood. My struggle to describe the power of gardening was no longer an issue. In fact, I didn’t need words. They just knew. For 35 years, this organization has been working to get more kids learning through the garden because they’ve learned firsthand and through our nationwide network of educators that gardening changes lives. It:

  • Improves self-esteem and attitudes toward school. 1
  • Improves social skills and behavior.2
  • Improves environmental attitudes especially in younger students.3
  • Increases group cohesion.4
  • Improves interpersonal relationships.5
  • Improves students' attitudes towards vegetables and fruit and healthy snacks.6
  • Improves attitudes towards healthy foods and increase the perceived value of vegetables.7
  • Significantly increases science achievement scores.8

And this is just the beginning. Every day we hear beautiful stories of educators inspiring children through garden-based learning. Every year, new studies come out reporting the measurable benefits of this work with kids.

My hope is to use this blog as a way to document and share both what we know, and what we are learning about the benefits of gardening with kids. Please join me as I explore the kids gardening movement we are helping to lead across this nation.


1 Sheffield, B.K.. 1992. The affective cognitive effects of an interdisciplinary garden-based curriculum on underachieving elementary students. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of South Carolina, Columbia.

2 DeMarco, L., P.D. Relf and A.McDaniel. 1999. Integrating gardening into the elementary school curriculum. HortTechnology. 9(2): 276-281.

3 Skelly, S.M., and J.M. Zajicek. 1998. The effect an interdisciplinary garden program, on the environmental attitudes of elementary school students. HortTechnology 8 (4):579-583

4 Bunn, D.E. 1986. Group cohesiveness is enhanced as children engage in plant-stimulated discovery activities. Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture. 1:37-43.

5 Campbell, A.N., T.M. Waliczek, J.C., Bradley, J.M. Zajicek, and C.D. Townsend. 1997. The influence of activity -based environmental instruction on high school students' environmental attitudes. HortTechnology 7(3): p. 309. Waliczek, T.M. and J.M. Zajicek. 1999. School gardening: Improving environmental attitudes of children through hands-on learning. Journal of Environmental Horticulture 17:180-184.

6 Lineberger, S.E. and J.M. Zajicek. 1999. School gardens: can a hands-on teaching tool affect students’ attitudes and behaviors regarding fruits and vegetables. HortTechnology. 10(3)L 593-597.

7 Cavaliere, D. 1987. How zucchini won fifth-grade hearts. Children Today, 16(3), 18-21.

8 Klemmer, C.D., T.M.Waliczek and J.M Zajicek. 2005. Growing minds: the effect of a school gardening program on the science achievement of elementary students. HortTechnology. 15(3): 448-452. Smith, L.L. and C.E. Motsenbocker. 2005. Impact of hands-on science through school gardening in Louisiana public elementary schools. HortTechnology. 15(3): 439-443.

Blog by: Emily Shipman

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Forging New Connections with our New Blog Format

One of our goals at KidsGardening is to establish a strong connection with those of you around the country—educators, parents, and community members—who are actively working to bring the many benefits of garden-based learning to youngsters through school, community, and home gardens. We want to develop dynamic and meaningful relationships with all of you who are out there “in the field,” cultivating children’s minds, hearts, and bodies as well as plants. We hope we can pass along information and ideas that will inspire you and make your youth gardening endeavors more successful. And in return, we hope that you’ll connect with us through your comments to let us know about your real-life achievements and challenges and to offer your suggestions for how we, as a national organization, can help you get the resources you need to connect kids to the garden and to keep the world of school and youth gardening growing and thriving.

To this end, we are excited to share news of some changes we’ll be making to our Growing Ideas Blog. For starters, you’ll now see posts twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays, instead of just once a week. Next, four members of our KidsGardening staff will be posting regularly in rotation. Each of these staff members will bring a specific focus to her posts, one that reflects her unique interests, expertise, and experience.

Executive Director Emily Shipman’s background in sustainable development, agriculture, food systems, and food security reflects her interest in youth gardening as a catalyst for social change. In her posts she’ll be exploring both what we know and what we’re learning about the transformative power of gardening with kids. In addition to writing from her own perspective, she’ll be talking with advocates, practitioners, and thought leaders across the youth gardening spectrum, sharing their inspiration and information we all can learn from.


Senior Education Specialist Sarah Pounders has been active in the field of youth gardening for more than 20 years and brings wide-ranging experience helping educators integrate garden-based learning into the classroom. And as the parent of a 9 year-old and a 5 year-old, she also brings a parental perspective to the world of kids’ gardening, both as the garden coordinator at her daughter’s school and as an avid home gardener. In her blog posts she’ll offer ideas for ways educators and parents can enhance the learning opportunities and fun that gardening offers.


Education Specialist Christine Gall brings a wealth of hands-on experience in garden and food-based learning, both in school settings and in programs at educational farms. Her blog posts will be drawn from her personal experiences as an educator as well as her passionate commitment to connecting kids with healthful food systems.



Horticulturist Susan Littlefield brings more than 30 years of experience helping folks solve their gardening problems and get the information they need for successful growing. Her background as a garden writer and enthusiastic home gardener, along with the fun she had introducing her two now-grown kids to the world of plants, will help her connect in an accessible way with those active in school and youth gardening. In her blog posts she is looking forward to sharing practical tips and interesting ideas and information, as well as answering your gardening questions.


Please join the conversation! We welcome your feedback on our new blog format. We’d also like to hear suggestions for topics you’d like to see addressed or ideas for ways to make our communications with you more useful, as well as your thoughts and comments on specific blog posts. We hope our blog will become an on-going dialog, connecting the KidsGardening organization with the wide and wonderful world of kids’ gardening!

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An Investment with Big Dividends

Emily Shipman – Executive Director

Have you ever reflected on an event in your life that, when it happened, seemed relatively small and insignificant but later you realized it changed your life by setting in motion a series of events?

Seeds to Sprouts Junior Gardener Program at Santa Fe Children’s Museum

To many of our grantees, receiving a KidsGardening Youth Garden Grant is a similar experience. A catalyst for continued growth and success, the grant is an investment that pays big dividends for years to come.

The outdoor classroom at Harold Martin School in Hopkinton, New Hampshire broke ground on a beautiful day in May. Betsy, one of the garden coordinators, vividly remembers the excitement of watching the first grade students engaged in the garden-building. The students took turns building a stonewall, planting the new butterfly garden, installing a special apple tree bred for New Hampshire’s climate, and creating cement cobbles for the garden path, each decorated with a different child’s handprint.

Planning for the garden began a year before planting day. “Each month, the team—made up of teachers, parents and a representative from the Department of Fish and Game—met to design the project.” The students were also involved in the process to make sure they “understood that the garden was more than the results. We wanted them to learn that building a garden took cooperation and attention to detail.”

The garden plans received a big boost when the school received a Youth Garden Grant from KidsGardening. “Winning the grant brought the ideas off the wish list and into reality,” Betsy recalls. “It galvanized the administration, teachers and most obviously, the kids.” The grant also helped draw in donations from throughout the community and in recognition of their efforts, the school received an award from the State Board of Education and was highlighted in the city’s newspaper.

At first Garden Day seemed to be the grand finale to the all their planning efforts, but as it turns out, it was only the beginning of the story. As Betsy is quick to note, the garden was the start of a much larger journey. “The success of the project was that we kept going towards other equally challenging ideas.”

Willett Elementary School Garden

Inspired by what they accomplished and building on the strong relationships they developed, the team involved in creating the garden continued to actively pursue new science-learning experiences. Through winning the Youth Garden Grant, the students learned that “if you have a good idea and can communicate that idea so that it interests others, you can accomplish your goals.” They used this new knowledge to search their local community and beyond for opportunities. “Many of the children involved have gone on to pursue careers in the field of horticulture and science. One student was inspired to be a florist, another went into the genetics field, and still others pursued careers in environmental design.”

Betsy credits the Youth Garden Grant as an important spark for their fire. “Without the structure of the grant, the committee may have met for a few many projects...slowly running out of steam.  But when the grant announcement came...we all united. It all began in the garden, showing us how we could come together and accomplish great things that instigated and gave meaning to classroom topics. It whet our appetites for more, and just like any garden, we kept on growing.”YFJ-garden-club-students

KidsGardening recently named the 20 winners of the 2017 Youth Garden Grant. The YGG was the first youth garden grant in the nation. Since 1982, KidsGardening has awarded nearly 5500 schools, nonprofits, and youth programs across the United States, contributing over 2.9 million dollars in funding to youth gardening initiatives.Save

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