Blogger Maria Trivisonno

Children’s Learning Garden

My library branch is in the middle of a food desert.  Our lower-income neighborhood has no true grocery store; instead, convenient marts and fast food restaurants abound.  Most of the children who come to the library grab snacks or fried food from the nearby gas station.


I myself am not a paragon of nutrition, but when you see even the skinniest of kids in the summer living on 2 liters of pop and off-brand hot Cheetos, you realize that the long-term effects on children’s health are very real…even if you can’t tell by simply looking at them.


We have long served lunches from our local food bank to children, but, at the prompting of our administration, we wanted to do something different—get the kids outside and gardening.  Many of our youth live in apartment buildings, so outdoor play and gardening knowledge can be hard to come by.


Planting beans

Three years ago, with the help of the Cleveland Botanical Garden, we developed a learning garden in a plot of land adjacent to our children’s room.  Thanks to a private donor, the next year we were able to greatly expand the garden to six raised beds for vegetables and two long flower beds.  We have grown corn, beans, carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, squash, and many herbs, which are often a huge “hit” with the children.  Many do not realize that mint is a plant, and have never even heard of thyme, oregano, and basil.  They love sampling the leaves.


Most of our successful programming is done on the fly.  Our families tend not to register for programs, so we developed small weekly activities to engage the children who happen to be in the library.  For example, we painted pet rocks to put in the garden and created seed tape with seeds, glue, and toilet paper strips which were then planted.  Through these simple programs, we developed quite a following amongst the local kids, who started to view the garden as their own backyard. Because of this use, next year’s expansion will include a large sandbox.


Last year, we were also lucky to receive a grant from the National Center for Families Learning to host an intensive family engagement program for families with children ages 3-5 called Let’s Learn Together Outside.  This three-week program focused on getting parents to use outdoor play and discovery to affect their children’s health, scientific interest, and pre-literacy skills.  The program

Admiring tomatoes

began with a meal.  Then one librarian took the children for a storytime and easy craft while another (myself) talked to parents about being their child’s first teacher.  Families then reunited to spend time together with an outdoor activity, where parents could practice the skills previously discussed.  After a successful grant, we expanded the program to 8 branches this summer.  You don’t need a garden, per se, to put on this program…just an outdoor area.


I would love to hear from other libraries that have an outdoor space to see what you have done to engage youth.  For those who want to see the pinnacle of children’s learning gardens, check out Middle Country Public Library on Long Island and their Nature Explorium.


This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competency: I. Commitment to Client Group and III. Programming Skills.


  1. Cindy Mediavilla

    In doing research for our upcoming book for ALA on library gardens—tentatively entitled LIBRARIES AND GARDENS GROWING TOGETHER—Carrie Banks and I have discovered many outdoor learning programs for youth being offered by libraries across the country. Some of the more notable are:

    • Southfield Public Library’s Imaginarium Garden, located in the children’s terrace, featuring wondrous sculptures and a garden filled with interesting plants.

    • The Enchanted Garden at the Charles E. Miller Branch and Historical Center in Howard County, Maryland. Library, where programming is held in many of the garden’s specially-designed areas, including the pizza garden, the Peter Rabbit patch, and an interactive demonstration garden.

    • The “nature-smart” garden at the Sun Ray branch of Saint Paul Public Library in Minnesota, which features a pollinator garden and several nature programs throughout the year.

    • The Children’s Garden, part of the Mid-Columbia Library Kennewick branch ‘s 2-scre demonstration garden.

    • An outdoor writing program at the Apopka Elementary School in Florida.

    • The STEM Garden at the Stickney Forest View Public Library /district in Illinois, where gardening and good eating habits are taught.

    • The Cupertino branch of Santa Clara County Library, in California, offers two outdoor programs: the Green Team Garden, which grows produce to donate a community food pantry, and a children’s garden that teaches youngsters how plants grow, what soil is made of, how seeds travel, etc.

    • The outdoor play area at the Park Slope branch of Brooklyn Public Library.

    • The food gardens at the Rancho Cordova and Colonial Heights branches in Sacramento, California.

    Our book will describe plenty more outdoor programs, so watch for it next spring in the ALA publications catalog!

    1. Maria Trivisonno

      Thanks so much for those resources! I can’t wait to read through them and get additional ideas 🙂

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