Teaching Kids to Protect Our Pollinators

Pollinator Patch

This summer at North Wind Day Camp in Canton, New York, 49 curious and intrepid campers, ages 7-12, earned the Pollinator Patch created by Cabot Creamery Cooperative and KidsGardening. The free patch program was developed to help children understand the importance of pollinators in our world and teach them practical ways they can help protect and preserve pollinator populations.

Pollinator PatchSeventh generation Cabot farmer, Allison Akin, of Five Mile Farm in Lisbon, New York led the pollinator activities. The campers worked hard to earn their patches, but also had fun learning about pollinators and their vital importance in growing food for people and animals. They learned that more than 150 of our common food crops, from avocados to zucchini, rely on pollinators to move pollen among flowers and facilitate fertilization, which leads to the development of fruits and seeds. Pollination occurs not only with bees, but also hummingbirds, moths, bats, butterflies, flies, and beetles. They all ensure the continued existence of millions of plant species. The campers learned that one of every three mouthfuls of our food depend on pollinators.

How did they learn about the work of pollinators? With fun activities and games. “Be the Bee” is a game that demonstrates how pollinators work, going from plant to plant. It was also a great way for campers to get to know one another and work cooperatively. They learned about the anatomy of flowers from those growing around them and went on to color and label each plant. And they learned about ways they could encourage pollinators to thrive in their neighborhood by planting gardens that would attract and support a healthy pollinator community.

Pollinator Patch Be the Bee Capturing the imaginations and commitment of young campers with the activities required to earn the Pollinator Patch is one more way we can encourage the health and well being of our communities and our planet. If you or your organization would like to learn more about how your group can help children earn the Pollinator Patch, go to the Cabot website’s Pollinator page for more information.

Inspiration for Early Childhood Gardens

early childhood gardens

Need a little inspiration for your early childhood garden program this fall?  Check out the Gro More Good Webinar Series we have been working on with the National Head Start Association and Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation.

This month’s webinar featured resources for using garden programs as a tool for teaching literacy.  As an introduction, I expanded on many of the tips from our article on Creating a Reading Garden and Becky Schedler from Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens shared some amazing lesson and activity ideas they have used at their Nature School over the years.  You can view the webinar by filling out the registration form.  As soon as you register, you will be redirected to a recording of the full hour-long session, which you can watch at your convenience.

Becky presented on ideas from their vegetable gardens inspired by the book “Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!” by Candace Fleming, their flower gardens centered around Lois Ehlert’s book “Planting a Rainbow,” and my favorite, an imagination garden building on a variety of Jack in the Beanstalk books. To give you a sneak peak, here are a few ideas from their Jack and the Beanstalk garden.

The class:

  • read an assortment of  books inspired by the classic tale of Jack
  • researched different types of beans including pole and bush beans
  • created a set of instructions on how to plant beans
  • planted the garden and added labels and whimsical accessories like hanging baskets of white flowering plants to serve as clouds and small farm animals and tractors to help the kids imagine the towering bean plant
  • planted bean seeds in paper towels so they could watch the roots grow and explored germination
  • made lifecycle cards and practiced sequencing
  • retold the story using props both in the garden and in the classroom
  • hosted a sensory table featuring bean seeds
  • held a taste test of different types of beans and created a class chart of favorite
  • used beans in cooking activities
  • took beans and activity ideas home to share with their families.

So much fun!  And so well integrated into the classroom curriculum!  Our school NEEDS this garden! I can’t wait to share all these ideas with our school’s Head Start teachers!  (Can you tell I am excited about this?)

In addition to the webinar series, on our website, we have also created a landing page with links to a lot of our favorite early childhood related resources.  Also, if you are looking for recommendations for excellent garden and nature focused children’s books, make sure to check out the Growing Good Kids Book Awards from the Junior Master Gardener program and the American Horticultural Society.  An expanding collection since 2005 (and in 2005 they recognized classic books written before 2005), the 2019 winners were just announced in July and they are all delightful. Tying gardens to treasured books is an excellent way to engage young children in gardening activities and help fuel their love of reading by connecting books to hands-on activities. It is a win-win situation.

We are working with NHSA on a line up of new webinars for the 2019-2020 school year so keep an eye out for more to come soon!

Summer Photo Contest

As I look through the pictures that have been submitted for our 2019 Summer Photo Contest, I am reminded of the old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” I love looking through all the photos of kids in their gardens showing off their beautiful spaces and prized harvest with faces full of joy. What do these pictures say to me? They say that getting kids gardening is important work and worth the time, energy, and resources I am dedicating to help make it happen. What do they say to you?

Photography has changed so much since I was a kid. I can still remember the suspense of picking up prints from the store wondering if your vacation pictures turned out well or, as usually was the case with the photos I took, were they out of focus with a thumb featured in them? With the evolution of digital photography, and especially the invention of the cell phone camera, the taking and sharing of photos has become an integral part of our world. Photos are powerful. We use them to communicate big stuff like expressing our thoughts and feelings, telling our stories and sharing news, documenting our joy and sorrow, and to hold our memories.

And just like any communication tool, we interpret images through the lens of our own experience and understanding. This is why different people can look at the same picture and yet formulate a completely different take away message.

So today I thought I would share a few photos of our family’s gardening adventures that are special to me and why.

The header photo above is a picture of flowers arranged by my son last summer. All on his own, he decided he want to make some arrangements and quickly picked every flower in our outdoor and indoor gardens. He proudly displayed them in a collection of assorted vases (which also each have a story of their own). He was so proud of his work, he then asked to borrow my camera to take this picture of his floral display. I love looking at this picture because we were going through a lot of struggles at the time and I can distinctly remember how light and happy we both felt doing this simple activity. It gave us a win when we really needed one.

Every fall, we plant container gardens of pansies – I love pansies so much – they are the happiest flowers around. This photo is of my daughter when she was 4 posing as we worked on our annual planting of bulbs and pansies. So it combines one of my favorite annual gardening activities with memories of her cute curls and sweet face.

Soil garden anyone? This photo is also from our annual pansy planting, but around 2 years later and it shows my son digging into the soil. The pansies never made it into his pot that year. Many of his earliest gardens were just pots of soil that he would enjoy digging through and watering … sometimes he would dress them up with some found natural items scattered about. Not exactly what I had planned, but a good learning experience for us both.


Lastly here is a picture from one of the early years of our school garden when the wood was still fresh and everything was new and exciting. After many years of watering, weeding and working to sustain the garden program, remembering how and why we got it started provides some inspiration to keep it going even when challenges abound.

Your turn! Please share some of your photos with us through our Summer Photo Contest!

Summer Reading List

summer reading list

I love to read. There is nothing better than finding a book that is so well written it captures all of your attention while you read it and leaves behind thoughts that stay close to the surface of your memory when you get done.  Our July KidsGarden News shares some ideas for engaging young readers through gardening, so I thought in today’s blog, I would share a few books for the grown-ups involved with youth gardens too.  Here are some of my current favorites:

Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis

Soil is really cool and this book will prove it to you.  I have read many books on soil and have attended a wide range of classes, labs, and workshops too, but it was reading this book that really brought soil alive for me. The authors do an amazing job of sharing a lot of technical information in a very easy to understand and relatable way.  Soil is not only a key to a successful garden, it is also a key to a healthy planet. As garden educators, I believe we should spend more time teaching youth about soil and this book will give you a strong background to do it.

Understanding Food and Climate Change by The Center for Ecoliteracy

A digital guide that includes not only written text, but also an assortment of videos and other interactive graphics, Understanding Food and Climate Change is a good starting place for learning about and considering the many factors related to the issue of climate change. It provides a number of resources that could be used to help you introduce and discuss this very important and complex topic with your youth gardeners.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

I love this book for many reasons, but I have added it to this list because I think the excerpts in which Michelle Obama discusses the White House Garden and what the garden meant to her, her family and beyond are great reminders of the power of gardening. The process of organizing and running youth garden programs comes with many rewards, but make no mistake, it is hard work and definitely not without a fair number of challenges.  Finding sources of inspiration whether that be in a book, through news or research articles, or formal or informal networking with others in the youth garden world is key for keeping up your motivation. Don’t underestimate your need to refuel mentally and emotionally for your gardening efforts.

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

The Gifts of Imperfection is a book about engaging in the practice of wholehearted living which I doubt I can do justice explaining myself in this short blog, but the take away message of this book for me was that it is important to dig into life with courage and compassion.  Once again you might be thinking, how does this book relate to youth gardening?  Teaching youth and growing plants are only part of the equation behind youth garden programming.  Working with adults (volunteers, parents, administrators, neighbors, maintenance crews, cafeteria staff, donors, and many more…) is also a critical component to creating a successful and sustainable youth garden program. We live in a society that is quick with criticism and many times short on appreciation and praise and even when working towards a worthy cause like a youth garden program, you can’t escape those challenges. Brené Brown has a number of books related to leadership and communication that I have found helpful as I navigate the process of working as a garden coordinator and volunteer. I am listing The Gifts of Imperfection here because I think it is a good place to start. I would recommend all of her books as tools for thinking about setting your goals, understanding your own motivation and helping you navigate the relationships involved in your garden program.


So, grab some books and head out to the garden with your young gardeners. Check out our latest article for ideas on creating special places in your garden for reading.

Celebrating Pollinators

Celebrating Pollinators

Pull out the party hats --- or better yet the antennae headbands --- next week, June 17th-23rd is National Pollinator Week!

Established through a Senate Resolution in 2007, National Pollinator Week was established to help bring attention to declining pollinator populations. More than 150 common food crops, from avocados to zucchini (and most importantly chocolate and coffee), rely directly on pollinators to move pollen among flowers to facilitate fertilization, which ultimately leads to the development of fruits and seeds. Beyond human food crops, an estimated 75% of all flowering plants rely on pollinators so the impact of declining pollinator numbers has significant implications for ecosystems across the globe.

Fortunately, efforts to bring attention to this crisis are showing signs of success.  For example, as part of the National Pollinator Garden Network, KidsGardening helped promote the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge with the goal of creating networks of home and community gardens across the country to provide habitats for pollinators.  This February the collaborative team proudly announced reaching our goal of having over 1,000,000 pollinator friendly sites registered. Data collected and shared in a final impact report indicated that the Challenge went far beyond the registered sites showing that it led to a shift in consumer awareness, and wider actions such as pro-pollinator pledges, proclamations and policies. Since the campaign launch, 92 percent of garden centers have seen an increase in demand for pollinator-friendly plants and services and 86 percent are offering more pollinator-friendly plants, services, and education.  It is not too late to join!  You can continue to register your pollinator garden and be part of the initiative.

Looking for specific activity ideas for how engage your youth garden program participants during National Pollinator Week? Explore the new Pollinator Patch Program created through our partnership with Cabot Creamery Co-operative. The guide offers activities designed to help participants understand the importance of pollinators in our world and teach them practical ways they can help protect and preserve pollinator populations. After completing the activities you can request free Pollinator Patches for each of your participants.

Here are some additional resources you may want to investigate this Pollinator Week:

Wild for Pollinators

Supporting pollinator habitats can be as simple as leaving an unmowed area of your yard to allow natural habitat to develop. Visit our Wild for Pollinator webpage for more information and to find links to many of our KidsGardening pollinator resources.

2019 Pollinator Poster

Educators can request up to 5 free copies of the 2019 Pollinator Poster showing endangered pollinators and their habitats from the USDA National Resources Conservation Service.  Complete details about the animals and plant pictured can be found on the Pollinator Partnership website.

Ecoregional Planting Guides

Check out Pollinator.org to download detailed planting guides that offer in depth information about native pollinators and plants in your area.

Pollinators from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

From podcasts to educational resources, The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has put together an impressive collection of pollinator related links to help you learn more.

Happy Pollinator Week everyone! Don’t forget to thank all the bees, hummingbirds, moths, bats, butterflies, flies and beetles you see for all their hard work next week!

We Have Ears!

Corn in a raised bed

We always try to incorporate one new thing in our school garden each season. This spring the something new was planting corn to go with our Tops and Bottoms theme (inspired by the book by Janet Stevens of the same name). The beds containing lettuce, kale (tops) and radishes (bottoms) took off quickly as I knew they would, but our corn germinated very slowly (we had a couple of late cold snaps) and even after the sprouts appeared, it did not take off at quite the growth rate I thought it would.

The kids kept asking me where was the corn and I started pondering whether I was going to need to run to the store to buy some ears of corn for the classes who planted in those beds (and if I could attach them to the plants without anyone noticing – just kidding…. okay, maybe it crossed my mind in passing).

And then one Monday we returned from a long weekend and there were tassels on top of our corn plants! Yes! I am pretty sure I was more excited than the kids. In fact, I think adding something new each season is more important for motivating the volunteers and teachers than it is for grabbing the students' interest. And then the questions started coming in and I realized my knowledge of how the corn plant works was lacking. Fortunately our friends at the National Gardening Association have an excellent resource all About Corn in their Learning Library. The tassels at the top are the male flowers that produce pollen that rains down on the female flowers which appear as threadlike silks further down the stalk in the joints of the leaves. The female silks will eventually become the ears of corn with each silk corresponds to a single kernel. Pretty cool right?

Whew! It worked. With the last day of school approaching,  I am not sure if our corn will reach full maturity, but the ears are at least getting big enough so that we can open up a few and show the students that they did in fact grow corn this spring.   Now if our cherry tomatoes would just ripen up, we will be golden. We currently have hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds) of very green cherry tomatoes and only 5 full days of school left—yikes! Just a reminder for me that it is always a challenge to match the school and garden calendars.

2019 National Children and Youth Garden Symposium


I know cold weather has over stayed its welcome in many areas of the country, but believe it or not, summer is just around the corner. I wanted to use today’s blog to encourage you to consider attending this year’s National Children and Youth Garden Symposium Conference which will be held July 10-13th in Madison, Wisconsin.

Since 1993, The American Horticultural Society’s National Children and Youth Garden Symposium has served as a catalyst for growth in the youth garden movement.  Bringing together administrators, educators, volunteers, and parents for networking and professional development, the Conference is a source of knowledge, inspiration and rejuvenation.  Each year there is a diverse line up of sessions and workshops representing youth gardening programs from all over the country.  Attendees represent public and private school gardens, community and nonprofit organizations, universities and colleges, botanical gardens and arboreta, the horticulture industry, and much more. There truly is something for everyone. As much as I enjoy the formal sessions, what I love most are the opportunities to network which are plentiful throughout the conference.

Conveniently scheduled in mid-July when school is out of session, to me it comes at the perfect time of the year too.  After a busy spring garden season, I am feeling as exhausted as the plants in my garden and getting the chance to remind myself why I do what I do, helps re-charge me for the fall. I always come away with an impressive number of new ideas and new connections.

Registration is now open and an Early Bird Rate is available until May 25th.  A wide range of travel accommodations are also listed on the website to fit every budget.  The American Horticultural Society and the local host organizations (this year that includes Community Ground Works, Environmental Design Lab and The Wisconsin School Garden Network) always do the most amazing job keeping the costs as low as possible. Full details are available on the National Children and Youth Garden Symposium site.

KidsGardening will be at this year’s conference – will we see you there? Let us know in the comments!

What Does Our Garden Grow?

what does your garden grow

This year our school garden is growing “tops,” “bottoms,” and “middles” and we have a new resident bear and hare family.

The hare

For the first time at our school, the second grade classes are taking on the role of gardeners and so we wanted to find a theme that would be engaging, fun, and a good fit for the required curriculum. After brainstorming, we decided to base the garden around the delightful book Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens.  If you have not read it, the book tells the tale of a crafty Hare who tricks a lazy Bear into letting his family plant and harvest crops on Bear’s land. They split the crops into tops, bottoms, or middles and the students learn about different parts of the plant we eat (and that it does not pay to be lazy).

garden grows
The bear

We kicked off the garden season by reading the book and talking about all of the different parts of the plant and the life cycle of plants from a broad perspective. We then planted the garden with each class either planting a “top” (lettuce or kale), a “bottom” (carrots, radishes and beets), or a “middle” (corn – this is an experiment for us, I am hoping we have enough time in the school year to see the ears develop). We also planted a pollinator patch of flowers for our Bear to sun bathe in while he watches the Hare family hard at work.

We are following up our planting with a few classes to introduce our young gardeners to plant parts in a more in depth way and specifically talk about how different adaptations of the various parts help plants survive in their environment (this is our link back to the required curriculum).  So far we have talked about the differences between tap and fibrous roots and woody and herbaceous stems.  Future lesson plans include exploring how flowers characteristics help attract pollinators and how fruits and seeds are adapted to allow plants to spread their populations.

As with any new venture, we are learning as we go, but so far so good.  In addition to our Tops and Bottoms garden, we also planted a larger pollinator garden, a rainbow garden with our Head Start classes, and our traditional tomato recipe gardens with our third grade classes.  Whew! It has been a busy spring and with the to do list a mile long, I try to frequently remember that in our school garden the plants are not really the stars of the show.  One of my favorite school garden mantras is “The most important thing we can grow in the garden is our kids.”  Although our garden certainly won’t land on any magazine covers and our harvest will probably be small, it is the smiles on the faces of the kids, the new knowledge in their heads, and the joy in their hearts that I am hoping to reap from our spring garden season.

So what do you grow in your garden?

April is Kids Garden Month, and to celebrate we’re encouraging kids to share what grows in their garden! From beans to zinnias, love to cooperation, or food for a hungry friend; kid gardeners, we want to know what grows in your garden!  Each week an entry will be chosen to win a prize. We can't wait to see what your kids come up with.

Getting a Head Start in the Garden

This year, KidsGardening entered into an exciting new initiative with the National Head Start Association and The Scotts Miracle–Gro Foundation to grow healthy kids through early childhood education gardens – The Gro More Garden Grant program. Designed to bring the life-enhancing benefits of youth garden programs to at-risk youth across the country, the grants will support the creation of edible gardens in Head Start Centers to teach kids and their families about the health benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables while also helping increase their access to fresh, local produce. What a great addition to a program that is already making incredible contributions to the education of our youngest learners and their families (check out these amazing impacts of the Head Start program).

Although the grant funding is limited to Head Start organizations, the partners are working together to create resources that can support all early childhood educators working to implement garden-based programs in their classrooms. Some of the supporting materials include:

- Quarterly Webinars. We are hosting quarterly webinars focused on creating sustainable, early childhood garden programs. Our most recent webinar on February 13th was on Creating Edible Garden Programs to Support Nutrition Education. Click here to view past webinars or sign up for future events. Our next webinar will be on May 15th on The Therapeutic Value of Gardening for Children.

- Online Resource Toolbox. We have compiled links to some of our favorite early childhood education resources on a special landing page to help ease your search for additional support. Check out our new Early Childhood Educator Resources Page.

- SEEDS Curriculum. The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation and Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center have partnered to create a wonderful new curriculum just for early childhood educators with activities for Tiny Gardeners (infants and toddlers) to Garden Guides (Grades 1 to 3). This comprehensive (72 learning activities -Wow!), free resource is available at: https://scottsmiraclegro.com/foundation/seeds.

From my perspective, when it comes to planting the seed of gardening, the earlier the better. As a parent and an educator, I have always been amazed (and honestly, slightly overwhelmed from a parent perspective) at the growth and development that takes place in the first 5 years of life and the importance of providing nurturing environments, that is why I am so thrilled to be part of an effort to meaningfully help support all of the educators and parents dedicated to getting our youngest learners out into the garden.

Beyond reaching our youngest gardeners, The Gro More Garden Grant Program is part of The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company’s Gro More Good initiative that is committed to helping connect 10 million children (yep, that is 10 million) to the benefits of gardens and greenspaces by 2023. With nonprofit partners Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, KidsGardening, Major League Baseball, National Farm to School Network, National Head Start Association, National Recreation and Park Association, and No Kid Hungry, the potential to grow a greener, healthier generation who loves to garden has never looked brighter.

Pennies for Plants School Garden Fundraiser

On our website we have compiled a list of ideas for raising funds for your youth garden program through garden-related fundraisers ranging from simple things like selling handmade crafts to more complex projects like starting your own farmers’ market. Wearing my garden educator hat, I love exploring all the possibilities of turning an essential activity like fundraising into a fun, hands-on, real-life learning experience.

But this week, I put on my busy PTO mom hat and we held my favorite fundraiser of the year – we call it 100 Coins for 100 Days. I am not sure how widespread this tradition is, but at our elementary school, the teachers and students celebrate the 100th day of school usually with special projects and by dressing up like they are 100 years old.  Our PTO decided to build on that event with a very simple fundraiser. On the 100th day of school we put buckets in each classroom and ask students to bring in 100 coins (in any combination of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters) and the class for each grade level who has the highest percentage of students participate (not based on actually money brought in by the class– the teachers just record how many students dropped money in the bucket because we want to make it as easy as possible) gets as small prize (a prize for all students in the class regardless of whether or not they participated).

Promotion of the event includes a ½ sheet flyer and electronic communications. The buckets were donated and are reused every year. The prizes are also either donated or leftover from other events  (this year for example they are 3-D bookmarks donated by a parent). Our very generous bank allows us to use their coin counting machine without a fee if we load it up ourselves (I learned to bring gloves – the coins are icky).  All together, there are no direct expenses and it takes about 4-5 hours of volunteer time from start to finish. It truly is the easiest fundraiser ever!

What kind of results do we get? This year we raised $1141.76.  This one event pays for our entire garden budget ($800) with some to spare. I realize this is not a huge amount of money necessarily, but for our Title I school that has a lot of challenges with parent engagement, this fundraiser is definitely a win and the funds raised to effort expended ratio is excellent. From my perspective, connecting the coin drive to an existing tradition and also making it a one-day, annual event are important factors for getting everyone excited about it. I am not sure it would be as successful if we tried to do it on a more regular basis.

I know this is a bit of a different ‘green’ suggestion than I normally share, but I can tell you that as we kick off our garden season this Friday by planting tomato seeds under grow lights, we will definitely be thankful for our successful 100 Days fundraiser that has ensured we will have plenty of funds for both this spring and next fall’s garden.