Academics
Lower School

Outdoor Garden

The Bentley Outdoor Garden at the Hiller Campus

Down the hill below the playground, lives our beloved community garden, filled with bunnies, chickens, flowers, and vegetables. The mission of the Bentley Community Garden is to augment classroom learning by getting outside and into the dirt. Through hands-on experiential learning, students begin understanding how nature’s ecosystems are directly related to our daily lives. Students learn to apply their connection with the garden to their immediate community.

Every student from Kindergarten to fifth grade spends a portion of their time learning what it takes to maintain the community garden. This includes planting, weeding, caring for the animals, maintaining fruit trees, turning compost, raking leaves, spreading mulch, and many other engaging activities. We call this time ‘Giving Back to the Garden’ or GBG for short. Performing these tasks is an important and meaningful way for students to work as a community, to improve the space that is shared by every Bentley student.

Garden programming for the Lower School focuses on:

List of 4 items.

  • encouraging curiosity, exploration, and discovery in a safe outdoor setting

  • building confidence and leadership skills by challenging students to solve problems using critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration

  • promoting environmental stewardship and sustainable living practices

  • and emphasizing the benefits of making positive contributions to the community.

Kindergarten: Learning the ways of the Garden

Kindergartners interact with the garden through fun and creative observational learning. The students are invited to choose their own “sit spot,” a special place in the garden where they sit for each lesson. From here, they write and/or draw what they notice about the world around them. Through intentional time spent in their “spot”, they begin to learn how exciting it can be to watch things grow and change around them.   

They enjoy a myriad of activities to foster a relationship with the garden, such as recording weekly nature journal entries, playing games, meeting the chickens, helping take care of the plants and animals, and are even encouraged to have ‘Sun, Soil, Water, Air’ place-based dance! 

First Grade: Exploring Science Outdoors 

First graders begin to incorporate science, math, reading, and writing into their garden lessons. They study animal habitats and adaptations, sound and light, pollination and pollinators, and life cycles of plants and animals. Through the hands-on outdoor lessons, students learn how science extends beyond the classroom. They are encouraged to explore, experiment, and ask scientific questions. Some example activities include building and observing animal habitats over time, designing and building a ‘music tree’ (named Beethoven) out of repurposed materials, and conducting an experiment to discover the best growing conditions for fava beans.

Gertude Jekyll

The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies.

Second Grade: Digging Deeper 

Second graders begin to apply a more advanced application of science-knowledge to their outdoor learning. They exercise their creativity and imagination through a collaborative, interactive storytelling project where students build miniature towns along a model watershed. Students must work together to solve social and environmental challenges. In an additional project, they get to design a seed that utilizes wind and air resistance for dispersal. 

Third Grade: Learning Life Cycles 

Third graders take a closer look at the life cycles that function within their surrounding ecosystem by getting their hands dirty. Their primary focus is studying decomposition and the nutrient cycle. One example activity is making a concentrated liquid that contains beneficial microbes called a “compost tea”, that supports the garden’s organic vegetables. The students also maintain a leaf mold pile that utilizes fungus to decompose leaves into garden mulch.

Fourth Grade: Understanding Plant Anatomy 

Fourth graders take an in-depth look at plant anatomy utilizing hands-on gardening, art, and music. Students record scientific drawings and notes about the functions of each plant part. They look at edible plant examples and learn how each food contributes to our own nutrition. They even learn and sing a song that highlights parts of a plant and its nutritional benefits. Not only do they focus on growing and harvesting cycles, but a local artist teaches students how to use natural materials to make eco-printed textiles. 

Fifth Grade: Becoming Stewards of the Garden 

As “seniors” of the K-5 garden, Fifth graders take an exemplary role in maintaining and engaging with the community space. As they continue to care for the plants and animals, they learn to identify native plants and their traditional medicinal and cultural uses and have the opportunity to consult a local artist on how to make infused oils from native plants. By the end of the year, the students’ collective expertise results in a collaborative Field Guide of the garden and surrounding forest. 

After School Programming in the Garden 

The community garden is open on a drop in basis during the after-school program. This is a more casual atmosphere where kids can explore, look for lizards, visit the bunnies, feed the fish, pick up the chickens, dig for treasure, lay in the hammocks, or just relax. There is no sign up, just pop in to the garden during open hours. 

K - 8 Campus

1 Hiller Drive
Oakland, CA 94618
(510) 843-2512

9 - 12 Campus

1000 Upper Happy Valley Rd.
Lafayette, CA 94549
(925) 283-2101