The Best Garden Warm-up: Color Squares

Five years ago, at the Watershed and Forestry Institute, I was taught a bundle of games that allow for students to engage with their surroundings. I’ve used many of them but one stands out a very frequent Go-To today, and that’s Color Squares. It’s so simple, but I can’t believe how it takes kids from standing expectantly in the garden to moving, engaging, observing, and curious about what they see growing around them.

Here’s what you do:

  • Stop by your local hardware store and slyly pull an assortment of paint swatches from the paint swatch display, focusing on shades of green. You’ll want at least one for every student, I have around 30 and they’ve lasted for years (you can see they’re a little worn).
  • Before getting started with any gardening or environmental education program, tell students that they’re each going to get a color square and their job is to look around the garden for a perfect match. *Clarify that they can match with fallen leaves but they aren’t to pick anything.

  • Hand out the cards and let the engagement begin! Students will want to show you their matches so I usually run around the garden taking pictures of the action.

  • After a couple rounds of matching, I have the student return their color squares and share out what else they noticed. The often leads to lots of natural observations and questions. The kids feel in charge of where the discussion goes as we follow their own curiosities.

I love this way to engage the students because it opens the students attention to their surroundings without their being a super-specific “right” or “wrong” botanical answer. Plus, the kids have a blast finding the matches. Enjoy!

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