Living Classroom

Living Classroom Logo 200wThe Living Classroom is a hands-on, comprehensitve education program that serves students in kindergarten through 8th grade. We have delivered lessons to over 16,000 students since 2008. Living Classroom makes learning relevant and fun. Visit a Living Classroom participating school and you may witness students constructing a worm farm, harvesting and threshing winter wheat, exploring the surface area of leaves, or planting a Native American "Three Sisters" garden. These lessons complement the existing curriculum and provide the opportunity for students to experience concepts taught in the classroom through exploration of the natural world.

Living Classroom gardens are ecological laboratories that provide beautiful and stimulating outdoor learning environments. We develop edible and native habitat gardens on school campuses to provide venues for our lessons on topics ranging from plant life cycles to history and from ecology to ethnobotany. Our gardens are also wonderful assets to a school campus and provide a place for creative play. We serve 21 schools in the Los Altos, Mountain View Whisman and Palo Alto Unified School Districts. We currently reach approximately 8,000 students in grades K – 8. In the 2015-16 school year we will provide over 1,300 lessons to students who receive valuable repeated exposure to learning from through lessons that  reinforce basic concepts learned  from one year to the next.

Why Garden-Based Learning?

School gardens are a living laboratory where lessons are drawn from real-life experiences rather than textbook examples, allowing students to become active participants in the learning process. Gardens teach students about where our food comes from, the importance of stewardship, and an appreciation for the natural systems that support life. Caring for a seedling from germination to maturity, observing hummingbirds pollinate salvia, smelling a sprig of thyme, finding beneficial insects, are all integral to a child’s developing sense of the world around him. By learning through action and through stimulation of all the senses, the school garden amplifies and enhances subjects covered in the traditional classroom. Garden based lessons have been shown to improve performance in math, science, writing, social studies, and overall attitudes toward learning. Through their dynamic nature, gardens embody a genuine and direct experimental, inquiry-based approach to learning.

School gardens are spaces that foster a child’s sense of wonder and imagination. They provide a platform for natural open-ended and creative play which is also an important element of childhood, often-times not fully appreciated when children's lives are so often scheduled with structured activities throughout the day.

At Living Classroom We...

Build a Lifelong Enthusiasm for Science and Math

Flower-GraphLiving Classroom is an exciting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program for the early grades.

Too often, STEM education begins with an introduction to engineering and technology concepts starting in middle or high school. And while any exposure to STEM is good, research studies on STEM education have shown that kids who experience STEM early through reality-based, hands-on learning are the ones who will be best equipped to develop a strong understanding of STEM concepts as they get older.

How does Garden-Based Education Relate to Science and Math? Garden-based education is an open air lab that teaches applied science and applied math. Most Living Classroom lessons teach life science. A few focus on physical and earth science. Some Living Classroom lessons teach the scientific method through actual experiments with plants. Students see and touch plants, measure them, and observing their reaction to a changing variable like the color of light or soil’s organic content. Several lessons focus on math concepts like coordinate grids, symmetry, grouping and surface area.  Many others use basic math skills to measure the results of a scientific experiment. Basic math skills include bar charts, data points, accurate measurement of height or weight and their denominations.
The real world nature of the lessons makes the science and math concepts relevant to their students' lives, rather than an abstract exercise from a textbook. Children are more likely to develop a lifelong engagement with science and math if they are introduced to the subject through exciting real world lessons. Garden lessons are particularly good at helping girls and low-income children, often alienated from science and math, build a feeling of closeness to and mastery over STEM subjects.
Experts and teachers are increasingly emphasizing the benefits of reality-based learning. Educators have made real world application of mathmatical knowledge a key element of the new Common Core Standards now being adopted by California schools. Living Classroom supplies a rigorously tested Common Core curriculum to grades K-8.


 Grow the Next Generation of Environmental Stewards

Finishing-the-plantingLiving Classroom connects children with the natural world.

Our environmental problems are serious and our next generation will be key to solving them. Studies show that regular exposure to nature is a critical factor influencing people to become environmental stewards.  Yet children today spend less time in nature than previous generations. Who then will care for our world?
Living Classroom creates beautiful outdoor learning areas on school campuses and brings children out to our learning gardens every day. Our program thrives in schools serving all different demographics, but we are particularly proud of our accomplishments in schools serving low-income families. Low income-families often do not have back yard gardens or cars to drive to open space. Their time and money-stressed parents often use the TV or Game Boy as a babysitter.

Nature Deficit Disorder: A lack of routine contact with nature can lead to stunted academic and developmental growth. This unwanted side-effect of the electronic age is called Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD). The term was coined by author Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods to explain how our societal disconnect with nature is affecting today's children. Louv says we now have a largely plugged-in culture that draws kids indoors. The average child sits more than six hours a day inside looking at an electronic screen and snacking. As a result, the healthy and decompressing outdoor play experience many adults had as children is becoming a thing of the past. Technology will continue to play and important role in children’s educational and social lives. But the amount of time kids spend “plugged in” is seriously out of balance. This shift has deep implications for our children’s capacity to function well in society, starting with their core readiness to learn in the classroom. But, as Louv presents in his book, the agrarian, nature-oriented existence hard-wired into human brains isn’t quite ready for the overstimulating environment we’ve carved out for ourselves. Some children adapt. Those who don’t develop the symptoms of NDD, which include attention problems, obesity, anxiety, and depression. Nature-deficit disorder is not a medical condition; it is a description of the human costs of alienation from nature. This alienation damages children and shapes adults, families, and communities. There are solutions, though, and they’re right in our own backyards and school yards. Offering sufficient outdoor time improves the overall health of our children while lengthening attention spans, diminishing aggressiveness, improving test scores and ultimately advancing learning.  The Living Classroom helps  restore a balance of green time and screen time to children’s lives. See for more information and articles on this topic.



Develop a Love of Healthy Eating

Oak-School-Edible-Garden-makinga-cabbage-salad Research shows that one of the best ways to build a love of healthy food in children is to bring them into the garden where their food grows. Unfortunately, many children and their families are eating mainly processed foods with unnatural and unhealthy ingredients.

School gardens Help Reduce Child Obesity; Connects Kids to the Source of their Food. According to the Western Growers Association, “The state of California is experiencing a major health crisis as the number of overweight and obese youth is growing at an epidemic rate. Approximately one in three children is overweight or at risk of being overweight, and almost 40 percent of school-aged children are considered unfit. The number of weight-related chronic diseases such as diabetes is of great concern to health care professionals, and the need for prevention education is critical. Garden programs work to combat this epidemic by teaching youth about healthy lifestyles including proper nutrition and physical activity.”
A diet full of processed foods, usually including an overdose of sugar, not only leads to poor nutrition and often obesity, but also disconnects children from where their food really comes from. Many students, when asked this question, reply that food comes from the store. Many do not know that carrots are roots, lettuce is a leaf, broccoli is collection of flower buds or that potatoes are tubers that grow in the ground. Many do not know that fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are critically important to a healthy diet.
Living Classroom lessons bring students front row and center to the sources of healthy food when they plant, harvest and eat from their school garden. Starting in Kindergarten, students learn about many different fruits and vegetables. They learn about companion planting through a Three Sisters Garden lesson.  They learn about important staple crops to some of the earliest civilizations around the Mediterranean. They learn a healthy appreciation for how much effort it took early wheat farmers to process their grain into flour, and many other lessons about natural, healthy and delicious food.
Studies have shown that after garden lessons like these children are more willing to eat fruit and vegetable snacks.  Research also shows that eating produce as children is an important predictor of higher fruit and vegetable consumption as adults and can help to prevent obesity and other chronic disease conditions.




For inquiries and information about how you can become a Volunteer Docent  for Living Classroom.