‘Bucket chairs’ for the garden

The issues:

Garden-based learning sometimes requires seating. School gardens need seating that fulfils the following criteria, among others:

  • portable
  • durable
  • waterproof
  • compact to store
  • flexible
  • comfortable
  • multipurpose
  • uses repurposed, recycled, upcycled materials
  • inexpensive

  • can be made by kids and teachers
  • has educational, artistic and participatory value in the making and using.

The story:

The Orchard Garden team entered into a community partnership with a group of undergraduate design students from the SFU SIAT Program (School for Interactive Arts and Technology) in the fall of 2017 as part of an SFU course project.




The four students came to Orchard Garden team meetings and events to do needs analyses and pilot designs to meet our needs. One of the designs was the prototype for these bucket chairs.
The design was modified by Orchard Garden student team members to take into account practical considerations, and then put into action at one of our Saturday Workshop series. Teacher candidates at the workshop again made helpful design modifications as they created the ‘bucket chairs’ — and this will no doubt happen in each iteration of this and other designs for the garden!

Here are the instructions from the workshop that you are invited to use for your own version of ‘bucket chairs’:

Designing and crafting ‘bucket seats’ for the outdoor classroom

Many thanks to Nick Byrne, the SFU SIAT design team and Eleanor Hendriks for collaboratively developing this ingenious design.

In the Orchard Garden and any outdoor classroom, we often need something dry and comfortable to sit on, on the ground, on a wet bench, or in a raised chair. How to make chairs that are inexpensive, versatile, comfortable, durable and easy to store? And how to make the chairs beautiful, distinctive and educational at the same time?

Our design uses multi-purpose 5 gallon buckets, decorated with colourful peel-and-stick vinyl decals and an information card, and topped with a removable dense foam ‘bum pad’ that fits the bucket lid. The removable lid and pad give lots of options for sitting on the top or bottom of the bucket or on sitting or kneeling on the ground. It also makes it possible to dry the foam pads if they get wet.






Materials & prep:

  1. Plastic buckets with lids. We bought new white 5 gallon buckets and lids at Rona for about $7 each, but you could use recycled buckets (from a grocery or deli) and smaller buckets (for example, yogurt buckets) for a smaller, lighter chair.
  2. Camping mats made of 1” dense foam. We bought two of these, 23 ¼” wide, at Army and Navy for $21 each. Each mat made 12 ‘bum pads’ that fit our bucket lids. We precut the foam into 11 5/8” squares that are close to the size of the lids.
  3. Peel and stick colourful vinyl sheeting. We bought about 4 yards at $3.50/ yd. at DeSerres art supply, but similar materials can be found as a kitchen shelf cover at hardward stores or craft stores. Alternately, acrylic paints or other decoration techniques could be used.

We precut the vinyl into 3” X 7” rectangles that would cover corporate logos on the buckets.

  1. Recycled file folders, cut up into small rectangles for information cards.
  2. Recycled plastic sheet protectors, cut into pockets for the information cards.
  3. Colourful duct tape to attach plastic pockets and info cards, and to mark pairs of foam pads and bucket lids.
  4. Sharpie permanent markers for info cards. These seemed to work well writing directly on the plastic buckets too (in which case you wouldn’t need the cards and pockets)


Instructions (approx. 1 hour with adults, estimate 1.5 hours with kids)

  1. Decoration: We decided to cover the logos on the buckets with images of leaves of our favourite plants. Our method was to cover the logo with a vinyl rectangle, and then to research, design and cut out the leaf pattern (or fruit, or seed, or …?) from contrasting vinyl and stick in on. Research can be done directly in the garden by choosing a plant leaf and drawing it, and/or using Internet or library research to find images and info about plants.
  2. Information: From research, write up some interesting information about edible, medicinal, fibre, fragrance or other facts about the plant, to be written on cards, sealed in plastic pockets and taped inside the bucket with duct tape…or written directly on the bucket with Sharpie pen.
  3. Foam seats: Sitting on the foam on top of the inside face of the bucket lid marks the shape of the lid on the foam square, so that you can cut out the right sized circle with sharp scissors. It’s a nice idea to mark the foam and corresponding lid with a shape cut out of duct tape (for example, a blue star, a yellow hexagon, a green heart or triangle, etc.)

The buckets can be stacked for storage, and used for carrying lunches, water bottles, sunscreen, hats, jackets, harvested veggies, etc. in the outdoor classroom, as well as being functional chairs. So creative, beautiful and practical!

Invitation to consider possible extensions:

What functional, beautiful and educational items would help you teach across the curriculum in your school garden in all kinds of weather? (Some things we have thought of include folding tables, canopies to shelter from sun and rain, ‘rugs’ to sit on if the ground is wet, musical instruments that can call everyone back to a central spot, jugs for serving water or cool/ hot drinks, cups and plates, etc.) We have experienced the beautiful designs that can come of the collective design and making process — many hands and minds can come up with more beautiful and original designs working collaboratively than just one person working alone!


Some guiding questions:

What needs can you identify for maker projects that would help your garden-based teaching and learning?

What materials are available to you? Are they things you can recycle or up cycle? Are they natural materials you can grow or forage or human-made materials? (Both are potentially useful in different ways).

What maker processes can your students undertake safely and to develop their making and designing skills?

Who else could you enlist to help with the work? (Parents? Teachers and staff in the school? Neighbours? Guests with special expertise?)



How will you raise any funding needed with in-kind donations or fundraising?

How will you conveniently store, repair and replace these items over time?


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