Creating a Native Plant Garden: A Spring Project with a STEAM and SEL Twist

Creating a native plant garden is an enriching activity that combines education, environmental stewardship, and fun. It’s a chance for kids to get their hands dirty, literally, and learn valuable lessons that go beyond the classroom.

Imagine a garden where every plant is a lesson to be learned, fostering an oasis where butterflies dance, bees harmonize, and birds serenade, blending creativity, learning and emotional growth in every leaf and petal. This isn't just any garden; it's your very own native plant garden, waiting to sprout from your magic touch this spring! 

In this enchanting world, you become a nature explorer, embarking on a colorful journey of life and color, all while unraveling the mysteries of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) and discovering the magic of caring and kindness through social-emotional learning (SEL). 

In this blog, we dig into a kid-friendly adventure of growing a native plant garden that combines the wonders of STEAM learning and SEL development, featuring practical gardening tips, creative nature journaling, and insights into the vibrant world of local ecosystems. So, grab a trowel, put on your gardening gloves, and let’s make this spring unforgettable with your very own native plant garden!

Why Native Plants? 

Native plants are superheroes in the garden! They've adapted to their local environment over thousands of years, making them perfect for your garden. These plants help support local birds, bees, butterflies, and other wildlife, creating a bustling community right in your backyard. By choosing native plants, kids learn about the importance of biodiversity and how each plant plays a role in the ecosystem.

Exploring the wonders of a native plant garden unlocks a universe of adventure for kids, blending the magic of nature with essential life skills. According to KidsGardening, gardening not only nurtures kids' connections to the natural world, boosting their environmental literacy and conservation attitudes, but also enhances social skills, community spirit, and self-confidence. Research highlights gardening's positive impact on children's nutritional awareness, physical activity, and overall well-being, making it an enriching experience that goes beyond academic learning to foster holistic growth.

STEAM Connections

Creating a native plant garden weaves together the realms of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) in vibrant ways. It's a living classroom where the science of botany and ecology comes to life, technology aids in plant selection and garden design, engineering principles guide the construction of garden structures, art is reflected in the layout and plant combinations, and math skills are used in planning and measurements. This hands-on experience not only deepens understanding of ecological principles but also nurtures creativity and problem-solving skills, illustrating the interconnectedness of the natural world and STEAM disciplines: 

  • Science: Kids explore botany, ecology, and environmental science through the life cycles of plants, the role of pollinators, and the concept of ecosystems.
  • Technology: Researching plants, using gardening apps, and even documenting the garden’s progress with a camera or journal incorporate technology and data recording into the gardening experience.
  • Engineering: Designing the garden layout requires understanding the needs of plants (like sunlight and water requirements) and how to create a supportive environment for them.
  • Art: Nature journaling, sketching, and garden design allow kids to express their creativity while observing and enhancing the natural beauty of their surroundings.
  • Math: Measuring garden space, counting seeds, and planning planting schedules integrate math into the gardening process.

Social-Emotional Benefits

Digging into a native plant garden merges the growth of plants with the development of young minds, deeply rooting kids in social and emotional learning. This holistic experience enhances patience and responsibility, empathy through caring for organisms and ecosystems, problem-solving within garden challenges, and self-awareness through reflective nature interactions. Additionally, collaborative efforts in garden tasks cultivate teamwork and mutual respect. Gardening becomes a tranquil retreat, fostering mindfulness and reducing stress, thus blossoming environmental care with personal and emotional growth.

Getting Started: Nature Journaling

Before we get our hands dirty, let’s grab a notebook and pencil. Nature journaling is a fantastic way to start our native plant garden adventure. The California Native Plants Society suggests that by encouraging kids to sketch plants, write observations or even compose little poems or stories about what they see, kids begin to connect with nature on a personal level. This activity enhances observation skills, sparks creativity, and fosters a sense of stewardship towards the environment while igniting their social-emotional learning skills. 

Discovering Native Plants

Finding the right plants to include in your native garden is an adventure in itself! Local nurseries and online sources offer a wide variety of native plants. Kids can learn about the different species native to their area and select plants that will thrive in their garden. This step is a practical application of research skills, as they gather information about plant needs and benefits​​. For help on researching native plants in your specific area, check out Pollinator Partnership.

Start Small: Planting a Native Container Garden

Kicking off a gardening adventure with a few container plants is a fantastic first step for young green thumbs! It’s a breeze to handle, fits just about anywhere, and brings the joy of real results. Opt for native plants that roll out the welcome mat for friendly pollinators like bees and butterflies. As these garden guests stop by, kids get a front-row seat to the wonders of nature, sparking curiosity and care for the environment—a perfect blend of STEAM learning and social-emotional enrichment.

Expanding to a Garden

When the magic of container gardening captivates young minds, it's time to dream bigger and transform a patch of lawn into a vibrant native plant haven. This venture into garden design introduces kids to a wider world of native flora, teaching them about the critical roles these plants play in local ecosystems. Kids can learn about different native plants suitable for their area and understand the roles these plants play in supporting local wildlife. Designing the garden to include various layers, from groundcovers to small shrubs and even trees introduces kids to concepts of biodiversity and ecosystem support​​. 

Let’s Get Gardening!

Ready to start this adventure? Here’s a simple way to begin:

  1. Choose a native plant or two to start your container garden.
  2. Observe your garden area and plan where you might like to expand.
  3. Visit a local nursery or research online to find the perfect native plants for your garden.
  4. Start your nature journal and make it a daily habit to observe and note the changes and visitors to your garden.

Creating a native plant garden is a multifaceted project that can bring a family or classroom together, fostering not just a love for gardening but also an appreciation for the natural world. By integrating STEAM and SEL principles, kids can gain valuable skills and knowledge that extend far beyond the garden itself. This spring, consider starting a native plant garden as a way to connect with nature, engage in hands-on learning, and contribute positively to local biodiversity.

Every plant you choose and every seed you plant makes a difference, not just in your garden, but in the world. Happy gardening!


California Native Plants Society

Nuts for Natives

Pollinator Partnership

Kids Gardening

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