How to Start an After School Garden Club for Elementary Students: Part 1

Colorful butterfly die-cuts with nature topics written on them by students.
Student surveys from the garden club were taken each fall on which topics they wanted to study. © Carol Labuzzetta, (author), 2013

Getting kids outside and engaged in the environment is a sure way to encourage environmental stewardship.

Author David Sobel is known to have said, “Give children a chance to love the earth before we ask them to save it.”

David Sobel

After working with young children, aged 7–11, for 13 years in an afterschool garden club I founded, I couldn’t agree more. Many children do not play outside anymore and fewer are familiar with growing plants, life cycles of garden-based organisms, where our food comes from, and phenological (seasonal) observations. In 2004, I noticed that the science curriculum at my son’s elementary school was lacking. I had just completed the Master Gardener Training through the University of Wisconsin’s extension office and needed to secure a way to accumulate volunteer hours and educational hours. Through these two coinciding events, I had an idea and created an opportunity for myself. Why not offer an after-school garden club for the students at this elementary school? I was already a classroom volunteer. I knew many of the students and some of the teachers. I just needed to get approval from someone in charge.

First, I worked out the details of the club. I wanted my idea to be solid before I presented it to the principal. The principal was the person in charge of her building, grounds, and potential student activities. After a meeting outlining my idea — once a month meetings for 90 minutes, conversion of an old used perennial garden bed our base and space inside the building we could meet at dismissal time and either proceed outdoors to the garden or hold the meeting inside if the weather was inhospitable, once attendance was taken. Lesson topics would be developed and planned by me, including a hands-on portion of the meeting. Belonging to the club was open to anyone in grades 2–5 who had an interest. It was FREE!

Over the years, each of these decisions caused some rethinking due to special circumstances or needs, but they were the parameters we stuck with for the entire 13 years. A permission slip had to be developed that parents would sign and return. This would also serve as my contact form for each…

Carol Labuzzetta, MS Natural Resources, MS Nursing

Environmental educator with a passion for teaching youth using the science of awe. Traveler, Photographer, Author, Wife, Mother. Top Writer & Boosted Writer x3