Youth Gardening & School Gardens

Bring Nature to Your Home or School

A garden is a great way for children to interact with nature in their own backyard, and making a yard more kid-friendly is not complicated. It all starts with a little loosening up. Children do not care so much about the tidiness or aesthetic appeal of a landscape. They primarily want to interact with the outdoors and discover new things.  Thus, it may be a good idea to pay less attention to achieving the best look and instead focus on how to engage a child in learning and play. By looking through a child's eye and making some simple changes, "off-limits" yards can become places of learning and exploration.

Foster imagination by reserving some wild spaces and rough edges such as mini-prairie, wildflowers, or un-mowed "meadows" and give kids a spot of their own to dig, plant, and build. Let them gather loose parts like sticks, seeds, and rocks that can be left out for the next day. Hideaways, lookouts, and living forts will reveal themselves amongst taller vegetation or can be dreamed up from wood or plant material. While playing in dirt and climbing up trees, children become engaged in nature, exercise more, and unleash their creativity. Unstructured play like this is important and has been shown to help foster healthy physical, mental, and emotional development.

Plant selection can have a big role in stimulating the senses and attracting interesting wildlife. Native plants are especially good for bringing in fascinating insects, birds, and other animals, and provide a way to teach a child about where they live. Children respond well to dramatic textures, scents, colors, and sounds, so plants with flashy flowers, fuzzy heads, noisy pods, smelly leaves, or sticky sap are great examples of appropriate choices for a kids’ garden. Edibles like fruits, vegetables, and herbs are another terrific option that involves youth in the process of food and where it comes from. No matter what plants are chosen, it is important to include many different kinds because diversity leaves more chances for unique experiences.

Lastly, do not be afraid to let the children take the lead—it is for them, after all. They are the best source of input and enlisting help with planting and care can kick off their outdoor learning journey. Kids will also love picking the "fruits" of their labor, and can learn about patience, stewardship, and self-esteem. So go ahead! Foster curiosity, inspiration, and discovery by creating a children’s garden. It is a great way to bring nature to the home or to school, and it can give children a special place where they can unwind, play, and grow.

Gardening With Children Primer

Plants for Children's Gardens

Creating a School Garden

A school garden should be a safe, accessible, identifiable outdoor environment for children to interact with nature that supports educational activities and play.  Such a garden should offer opportunities to improve cognitive ability and motor skills and promote creativity, emotional wellness, pro-social values, and attachment to the natural world through structured and unstructured experiences that motivate learning in all subject areas.  Creating a successful school garden takes forthought and support from the school community.  Here are some suggestions to help bring the project to fruition. 


  • Determine use, users and desired outcomes of garden
  • Build team of interested parties such as administrators/school board, teachers, maintenance staff/volunteers, parents, students, etc.
  • Consider garden fit for existing curriculum and meeting state standards
  • Brainstorm funding sources
  • Determine construction/economy and maintenance needs

General Characteristics

  • Scale and size to accommodate all age and group ranges
  • Safety concerns (provide shade, avoid injury, etc)
  • Universal accessibility and accommodation for circulation and movement
  • Opportunities for access to plants at all levels/heights

Plant Selection

  • Plants that engage all five senses to support opportunities for touch and interaction
  • Plants with multi-seasonal attributes
  • Plants with uses that fit within all areas of curriculum
  • Plants for observing, eating, harvesting, nurturing, propagating and drawing
  • Plant for people-plant and people-wildlife interaction
  • Movable plant objects such as seeds acorns, cones

Grants for School Gardens


Need Help with Planning?

The Nebraska Statewide Arboretum offers landscape design assistance for schools and public spaces at a low cost.  Over the years, the NSA has built a tradition of fostering sustainable, manageable, and beautiful landscapes that promote education and stewardship in Nebraska.  Contact Justin Evertson for details at