Education for Students at Theodore Payne Foundation

Come explore our incredible community resource in the Verdugo Foothills, including wild areas, conservation, professional horticulture, and the story of our local environment.

K-12 Field Trips

Field trips to TPF are the core of our service to youth. Field trips are inquiry-based and California Department of Education standards-based, and feature hands-on activities that teach students about California native plants and the natural world. Throughout all programs, the vital ecological link between native plants, insects, and other animals is emphasized. Students will understand the water-saving benefits of native plants and the crucial ecological function that plants fulfill.

Our K-12 programs last one to two and a half hours, depending on the subject, and are held in the La Fetra Nature Education Center and on TPF grounds.

Programs include:

  • TK-2nd Grade – Force of Habitat: Students learn about Southern California’s rare natural environment, discover the ways the parts an ecosystem work together, explore and observe a native plant garden, and learn how to help habitat in their community.
  • 2nd-4th Grade – All about Adaptation: Students learn about how organisms adapt to their environment, identify adaptations in plants on the grounds, and explore the ways in which plants relate to pollinators. A walk on the grounds centers on exploring and examining the adaptations of California native plants. Students observe plants, animals and insects, discuss food webs, examine leaves from different habitats, and through writing and drawing, analyze leaf characteristics to determine their adaptive structures. Through scientific observation, students examine how leaf adaptation may affect heat absorption and water loss. Students make predictions and test their hypotheses. This program satisfies science standards: 3rd grade, 3.3.a, 3.3.d, 3.5.c, 3.5.d and 3.5.e; 4th grade, 4.2.a, 4.3.c and 4.6.b
  • 3rd-4th Grade – Plant Energy!: Students learn about the plant processes, including photosynthesis and transpiration, adaptations to capture the sun’s energy, and native plants role in energy cycling in our community.
  • Elementary Grades – Caterpillars, Butterflies, and Plants, Oh My! : Students learn firsthand about the life cycle of local butterflies, including pollinator specialization, and butterfly host and nectar plants during a walk on the grounds. Students explore plant-animal relationships through observation, art, and data recording. Habitat and food web connections are explored. Our mature garden offers a rare opportunity to see California native plant and animal species you might not see at home!  This program satisfies these science standards:  2nd grade, 2.2.a, 2.2.b and 2.2.c; 3rd grade, 3.3.a, 3.3.c and 3.3.d; 4th grade, 4.2.a, 4.2.b and 4.3.c; and, for 2nd grade, visual arts standards 2.1.3 and 2.2.5.
  • TK – 7th Grade – Ready, Steady, Sow!: Through hands-on activities, students learn about the cultural and environmental importance of seeds, plant life cycles, and experience seed collection or seed propagation, in season.
  • 3rd Grade and up – Changing Landscapes: Students learn about California’s landscape – both cultural and environmental – and explore various subjects such as geography, water systems, plants used by First Nations people, and environmental changes over time. This walk on the grounds focuses on the ways in which First Nations people of our region adapted to the natural environment and used its floral resources, and touches upon political, cultural, and environmental changes over time. Students learn lifeways skills using from native plants, such as rope-making from yucca, creating seed-beaters from willow, or other activities, in season.  This program satisfies these social science standards: 3rd grade, 3.1.2 and 3.2.2; and 4th grade, 4.1.3, 4.2.1 and 4.2.5.
  • 4th Grade and up – Art and Nature: Botany begins with close observation. This workshop focuses on close scientific and artistic observation. On a brief walk, students explore and closely observe plant physiology and structures, predict adaptations, and consider the importance of California native plants to our habitat. The program concludes with painting a native plant in tempera on paper.
  • Middle- and High-School – Native Plant Herbarium: Students will learn about the structure and function of an herbarium: a reference collection of preserved plants. In this field trip, students take a brief walk exploring the importance of California native plants to our habitat is followed by herbaria-related activities, including recording plant identification on the grounds.
  • Middle- and High-School – Nature and Future Round Table: This trip begins with an exploration of the importance of California native plants in our habitat and then a walk through a virtual urban neighborhood in order to examine the issues of healthful environmental design. Though hands-on activity and planning, students explore the issues and challenges for our environment and present their findings and practical plans in a closing roundtable discussion.
  • All Grades: Professional Skills Walks: Our strength is what we do. Students will tour the grounds learning about the history of Theodore Payne and the work of the present day Foundation. Plant adaptation, plant-animal relationships, and plants in urban environments will be discussed in brief. This field trip experience concludes with an activity of the skills we practice at Theodore Payne Foundation: seed or plant propagation, a practicum in rudimentary garden design, discussion of native plant communities, or the basics of building your own garden in the city.
  • For Middle-, High-School, and College Students – TPF Overview: The Foundation offers a 1½-hour program that includes a tour of our gardens and growing facilities and an illustrated lecture. The lecture explains the big picture of California native plants: geography, soils, native plant adaptations and water use, and why native plants are the foundation of local food webs. During the tour, students gain a familiarity with native plants and are shown how TPF propagates plants from seed and cuttings. A real eye-opener for exposing students to varied career choices!
  • High School – Plant Propagation: Plant propagation classes for groups of eight students or fewer. Participants learn how to propagate native plants from cuttings. Special rates apply.

Fee: $5.00 per student. Chaperones, teachers, and aides are free. All worksheets, factsheets, and materials included. We offer discounted pricing for Title I schools. Please call for rates.

Service Learning

We offer service learning for teachers who are seeking authentic, hands-on activities that engage students in cultivating plants, with horticultural education woven throughout the program. Service learning brings students into close contact with the plants and various places around our grounds, resulting in an impactful and memorable visit that teachers want to repeat year after year.

Fee: $5.00 per student. Chaperones, teachers, and aides are free. We offer discounted pricing for Title I schools. Please call for rates.

Pre-school Groups

On a docent-led walk through TPF grounds, children explore leaf and flower textures, scents and shapes, and learn about birds, butterflies, and other creatures that native plants support. A great way to encourage an appreciation for nature (and essential for piquing students’ later interest in biology!). Fee: $10.00 per parent and child, and $5.00 for each additional child.

Community Groups

Scouting groups and nature clubs can arrange for learning experiences at Theodore Payne Foundation. Our programs offer first-hand interaction with plants, pollinators, and other wild life, including abundant lizards and birds. Fee: $10.00 per parent and child, and $5.00 for each additional child.

Contact: Diana Sherwood, K-12 Education, at k12 at or (818) 768-1802 ext. 22.