Turn Your Garden Into a Playful Outdoor Classroom!

By Christine Thalls | April 25, 2018
by Christine Thalls
April 25, 2018

 Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose is one of the leading children’s museums in the country, serving more than 400,000 children, parents and educators annually with over 150  award-winning, hands-on exhibits and programs.

Farm Stand Fridays at Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose

Learn how you can turn your garden into a tasty outdoor classroom with these garden-sampling activities that promote math, science, and language skills.

Bill’s Backyard

At the museum we recently opened a half-acre, nature play space named Bill’s Backyard. A centerpiece of this space is our seasonal garden that provides the ultimate outdoor classroom for kids. We recognize that even the simplest of activities have the opportunity for great depth when thoughtfully presented. One delicious example is our weekly tradition of Farm Stand Fridays, when we wheel out an eye-catching cart full of the garden’s ripe bounty. A tray of colorful veggies fresh from the garden isn’t just tantalizing for the taste buds, it’s also a chance for young children to build and practice foundational math, science, and language skills.

the Farm Stand

One way to get kids sharing the flavors, textures, and their likes and dislikes is by using a T-chart in your garden like we do at the Farm Stand. This chart can be as simple as a large sheet of paper with a question at the top prompting observations: “What colors can you find”? Or asking for opinions: “Which vegetable tastes best to you”? Below each question are columns with possible answers written and illustrated where children can record their findings with a tally mark. By adding this modest tool, we’ve noticed children spend more time chatting with museum staff at the cart and are more likely to return for samples during their time in Bill’s Backyard.


 Although this chart might seem quite simple to us, it’s often children’s first time encountering this type of data. Math skills are practiced by tallying the marks in each column and making estimates on the number of tally’s in each column. Which vegetable is the winner today – is it the purple or the yellow cauliflower?

purple and yellow cauliflower

Children are natural scientists – observing and experimenting with the world around them is how they learn. Using a T-chart allows children to hone these important scientific inquiry skills. While tasting, they make predictions on how each vegetable might taste, they compare and contrast plant parts, categorize plants into similar groups, and then record their findings.

Christine Thalls, Urban Ecology Program Developer, with children

Who knew our edible friends could be so much fun!

Time spent in the garden will also help your little one develop their vocabulary, a link to success in other subjects.

A garden is full of shades of green. Helping your child describe the various colors and names of leafy vegetables is a great way to prepare them for reading – not to mention – help them fall in love with veggies.


Christine Thalls, Urban Ecology Program Developer, examining lettuce with child

Washing Lettuce

Lettuce spinning

At our museum, we have visitors who speak multiple languages. We see parents and caregivers translating this activity to their children and other visitors in their native language. This cross cultural exchange has been an exciting, unintended outcome of our Farm Stand Fridays. If you’re multi-lingual, consider using the garden as a place to help your child learn a new way of saying “carrots or lettuce or peas.”


With a simple T-chart and a marker, you can turn your garden into an outdoor classroom where learning sprouts, grows, and blossoms.

We hope every child has the opportunity to learn from and grow alongside an outdoor classroom garden!

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