Mazes are an engaging and fun addition to any youth garden. They can be made from a wide variety of materials depending on the resources and space available. Design and installation of the maze hones math and art skills.
For thousands of years, people the world over have built mazes and labyrinths. The image of an ancient maze is carved onto the wall of a tomb dating back to 3000 BC! Mazes and labyrinths can be two-dimensional, such as one painted onto a floor, or three-dimensional, with raised walls. The latter are often constructed form plants.
Although the two words are often used interchangeably, a labyrinth has just one curving and contorted path to follow, but a maze includes multiple paths with forks and branches that can lead to dead ends. Probably the best-known maze occurs in the Greek myth of Theseus, a young man who entered a maze that was inhabited by a man-eating Minotaur (a creature that's half man, half bull). Theseus succeeded in conquering both the monster and the mysterious maze.
Check out these Web sites for additional historical information about the maze:
By the sixteenth century, mazes and labyrinths were common features in gardens and were often made by planting tall hedges to form thick walls. These were constructed to provide both fun and mystery. Today, mazes are built for outdoor adventure. Here are some common materials for building mazes (click links to view examples):
The examples above are of mazes constructed on a large scale, but smaller mazes can be just as engaging. Also, if you're concerned about safety, you can design your maze using shorter plants. Even though it takes away a little bit of the mystery, the students can still enjoy the puzzle a maze offers.
You can make a maze permanent by using perennial plants such as evergreen shrubs, ornamental grasses, or low-growing lamb's ear. Or change it from year to year by using annual plants like corn, sunflowers, or snapdragons. If your space is limited, try making temporary mazes on a paved surface using potted plants (they'll need frequent watering) or hay bales. You can even mow maze into a lawn by letting the grass grow a few inches longer than normal, then cutting paths.
Laying the Groundwork
Ask students what they know about mazes, and if they'd like to include one in their garden or schoolyard. Have them conduct research through books and websites, and ask each student find a photo of at least one maze or labyrinth to share with the class. They can also complete 2-D maze sketches to increase their understanding of the puzzle aspect of mazes. Use the following questions to spark discussion:
1. Why do you think people enjoy mazes?
2. What kinds of details do you think we need to consider as we plan our maze? (Appropriate materials for the maze and path, size of path, space available for the maze, etc.)
To hone math skills by designing a garden maze.
- Books and Internet sites about mazes
- Graph paper
- Maze construction materials
1. Ask each student to plan a maze for the garden on graph paper. Challenge them to think of a theme and title for their design. Older students should draw the maze to scale using the actual measurements of the maze construction site.
2. Ask students to research suitable maze plants on the Web and in catalogs and books. They should consider what will grow well on the chosen site.
3. Once the designs are complete, have students share their designs with the whole class.
Using some of the ideas from students' designs, involve students in designing one maze for your garden. Have them measure and lay out the paths using string for an outline. Finally, obtain and install the plants.
English: Ask students to write stories that take place in the maze they designed.
Science: Study maze-like structures found in nature, such as caves and animal habitats (e.g., ant tunnels, prairie dog burrows). Establish a classroom ant or earthworm farm for observation.