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.

Some of our on-site field trips include:

  • TK-2nd Grade – Our Habitat: Students learn about Southern California’s rare natural environment, the ways each part an ecosystem work together, and how to help habitat in their community.  Students explore and observe using smell, sound, site, and touch.  The session concludes with activities based on the season.
  • 2nd-4th Grade – All About Adaptation: Students learn about how all things adapt to living in different environments, identify adaptations in plants on the grounds, and exploring the ways in which pollinators use these plants. Students observe plants, animals and insects as the life web is discussed. Through writing and drawing, students analyze plant characteristics to determine their adaptive purposes. Through scientific observation, students examine how different adaptations may affect heat absorption and water loss.  Students make predictions and test their hypotheses. 
  • 3rd-4th Grade – Plant Energy  Sun, Soil, Water, and Air: students learn about the way in which plants operate in the environment, a plant’s life, from radicle to dispersal, including transpiration, photosynthesis, adaptations in action, and all about native plants in our community. 
  • Elementary Grades – Pollinator Partners—Caterpillars, Butterflies, and Plants Students will learn about the life cycles of Southern California butterflies, insect specialization, butterfly and bird host and nectar plants. Students learn through observation, art, and data recording. Habitat and life 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! 
  • TK – 7th Grade – SEEDLab Through hands-on activities, students will learn about the cultural and environmental importance of seeds, seed-plant life cycle, and experience seed collection or seed propagation, in season!
  • 3rd Grade and up – Changing Landscapes: Students will 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 our environment’s changes over time. This walk on the grounds focuses on the ways in which First Nations people of our region historically engaged with the natural environment and used its resources, the specific ways in which native plant materials can be used, and touch upon political, cultural, and environmental changes in this region over time.  Students engage in life-ways skills that may be garnered from native plants, such as rope making from Hesperoyucca whipplei.
  • 4th Grade and up – Art and Nature: Botany begins with close observation.  This workshop focuses on close scientific and artistic observation. A brief walk allows students to explore and closely observe plant physiology, structure, adaptations, consider the importance of California native plants to our habitat, and 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 and plant identification on the grounds.
  • Middle- and High-School – Nature and Future Round Table: This session begins with a brief walk exploring the importance of California native plants to our habitat. Then we consider our urban neighborhoods, environmental and social justice, as well as a future including healthful environments within our cities.  Though exploration, activity, problem-solving, and play, students explore the issues and challenges for our environment and present their findings and practical plans in closing roundtable presentation or 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.