What Does Your Garden Grow?

By spending time in a garden looking closely at what is there, you can build awareness of students’ outdoor surroundings by investigating and discovering some of the wonderful things that are found there.

In this activity, students will learn about conservation and collecting natural objects for further study without disturbing nature. This activity is suited best for students in first and second grade.


  • Zip Lock Freezer Bag
  • Journal

Getting Ready

  • Make sure that each student has a “School Garden Journal.”
  • Do preliminary scouting of the garden area to decide where students can walk and collect items.

Doing the Activity

Session 1

  1. Tell students they will be going outside to take a close look at the garden and to collect five nonliving things in nature that interest them. Before taking the walk, ask:
    • What kinds of things do you think you will find? Record the items they brainstorm in a visible place.
    • What would you most like to find?
    • What do you hope you won’t find?
    • How can we show respect for nature on our walk? Make a chart and list ways students can show respect for nature on one side and ways they show disrespect on the other side.
      • Respect: Always be kind to nature. Be alert and watchful. Pick up trash and provide trash cans. Plant trees and flowers.
      • Disrespect: Pull up, break off, or injure living plants. Kill insects. Disturb animals or their homes.
  2. Discuss why they should not collect living things. (They may hurt or kill it. We are visitors in their home and should do as little as possible to disturb them.) Things that were once living such as leaves on the ground, dried seeds or twigs are OK to pick up because the students are not harming anything.
  3. Review behavior and safety guidelines before going outdoors. Make a rule that students must be able to see you – and you them – at all times.
  4. Tell students to look under, into, behind and around items in the garden if they can do so safely. Students allergic to bees, wasps, or other insect bites should take precautions to prevent an incident. Encourage students to get down on their hands and knees for a close-up look at small objects.
  5. Give each student a Ziploc bag and walk together around the garden twice. On the first go-around, students should observe and decide which objects they would like to collect. Use the second walk to collect items of special interest. Allow time to observe objects in detail. The goal is not to collect the most objects, but rather the most interesting items. Setting a goal of finding five favorite things helps to keep the hunt organized.
  6. Have “show and tell” after the walk. Refer students back to the brainstormed list in Step 1. Compare the expected items with what they actually collected by asking:
    • Did we find what we thought we’d find in our garden?
    • What new things can you learn about our garden from looking at this collection?
    • In what way are all of these things connected? (They are all part of the garden community. Everything here is connected because they share the same surroundings.)
    • What did you see in the garden that you liked? That you did not like?
    • Who uses the garden for a home?
    • Is our garden growing any food for animals and/or people?

Session 2

  1. Divide the students into small groups with each student having their bag of “treasure.” Tell them that they are going to work together to sort and group their objects into categories.
  2. First, divide the once-living things from the nonliving things. Then offer several other “opposites” to help them sort. For example, you can separate by colors, textures, weight, etc. Encourage the groups to come up with categories of their own.
  3. After the students have worked on their categories for a while, ask a group to tell you what their category is. Write it on the board or notepad. Ask the rest of the students if any of their items fit into that category. Have them bring the objects together. Ask the class, “Do you agree that everything in this group could belong here? Why or why not?” Once there is agreement about the makeup of the group, have everyone sit down. A volunteer then calls another category.
  4. During one of the group sharing sessions, slip a couple of items that do not belong into the grouping. Ask, “Do the items I just added belong with this group? Why?” Summarize by asking:
    • How did we use our school garden to learn new things today?
    • Why could we call our garden an “outdoor classroom?”
    • What did you learn about the grouping or categorizing or items from the garden?

Additional Activities

  1. Make collages with the objects collected. Have students choose a title for the display and make a gallery of the collages on your wall or in the hallway.
  2. Make rubbings of some of the collected objects using crayons. Discuss and compare the different textures.
  3. Set up a workstation with several of the items and let students work on categorizing when they have time.
  4. Have students make a list of items found in the garden. Invite students from another class to go on a scavenger hunt.
  5. Add challenge to your categorizing activities. Early learners will enjoy counting the number of objects found in several categories and making bar graphs to compare quantities. Making Venn diagrams as they group items found in the garden will challenge more capable students.


Project Food, Land & People, 2000