Pretend-Play Potting Shed

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Cover courtesy Roost Books
“The Garden Classroom” by Cathy James offers a whole year of outdoor play and learning ideas—however big or small your garden.

 The Garden Classroom(Roost Books, 2015) by Cathy James is packed with garden-based activities that promote science, math, reading, writing, imaginative play, and arts and crafts. Every garden offers children a rich, sensory playground, full of interesting things to discover and learn about. This project will help you set up a potting station for your favorite children. To get all the benefits gardening offers, it’s good to let children be as hands-on as possible. Of course, some seeds are precious, and new plants are delicate, and that’s not always the best combination with a young child who wants to plant and pick and poke. A solution for keeping everyone happy is to set up a potting-shed play area where the kids can role-play being gardeners over and over again to their hearts’ content — giving the real plants in the garden a chance to get established while the children are playing elsewhere.


  • Plant pots and seed trays
  • Small trowels and spades
  • Compost, sand, rice, dried pasta, or playdough
  • Seeds and artificial flowers
  • Watering cans, spray bottles
  • Seed packets and garden catalogs
  • Plant labels
  • Pencils, paper, and clipboards or chalkboards and chalk


  1. Chose an area in the garden where your kids can putter and make a little mess. A shady spot under a canopy or tree is ideal, as the children can play as long as they like and still be sheltered from the sun.
  2. Gather some materials to equip your planting station. A raised sandbox makes a great potting table. Add plant pots, seed trays, and small trowels and spades.
  3. You’ll need planting material, but what you choose is up to you and how much mess you enjoy. Compost is the obvious choice, but sand, rice, dried pasta, and even playdough are all good options for filling plant pots to plant seeds and flowers in.
  4. Provide things for your children to plant. You could offer spare seeds, especially big ones such as beans, peas, or sunflowers, which children can handle easily and reuse each time they play.
  5. Add artificial flowers, too, either bought or homemade.
  6. Include watering cans and spray bottles to tend the plants, filled with water or just imagination.

Never miss an opportunity to add reading, writing, and math. Provide some real seed packets and pages from garden catalogs to browse through, covering them with contact paper or sticky-back plastic or laminating them if you want to help them last longer outdoors. Keep a supply of plant labels and pencils so the children can write notes about what they’ve planted. Clipboards with paper or a chalkboard are good ways to provide writing surfaces outside, and the children can chart what they’ve planted or even set up a nursery and sell their wares.

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From The Garden Classroomby Cathy James, © 2015 by Cathy James. Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.