The Secret Garden
Study Guide


As you scroll through this guide you will find curriculum connections, discussion questions, units of study and more. You will also be able to click on any templates, worksheets and/or graphic organizers. If you wish to create your own lesson plan from the study guide copy, we have created a lesson plan template for your use. We hope you will find this guide to be a useful resource. Should you have any questions or feedback or have inquiries about the use of this guide (which is copyright protected), please feel free to contact Karen Gilodo, Associate Artistic Director, Education at kgilodo(at)


Misslethwaite Manor looms large in the eyes of the children who live there. A large, dark house on a windy moor is home to Colin and more recently to Mary, who has arrived from India having lost her parents to cholera. Mary inhabits her new home as a guest, expecting to be waited on by servants. She soon finds, however, that the key to her happiness will be learning how to take care of herself and extending care to those around her. Colin has been shut in at the manor for as long as he can remember. Believing himself to be suffering from multiple named and unnamed illnesses, he is left in the company of adults and doctors tending to his every physical need, but depriving him of childhood activities that, although they may not cure illness, contribute to overall wellness. As Mary and Colin become agents for change in their own lives, they learn empathy and kindness. They also find the courage to seek and speak truth.

YPT’s season theme is “Finding Yourself” and The Secret Garden highlights the lives of young people on the path to finding out who they are and what they believe in. It does not happen all at once. The children, who use a secret garden as a playground for their imagination and curiosity, learn that growth, while difficult at times, can also be exhilarating. With the help of some friends along the way, Mary and Colin learn how to fiercely embrace the power in their childhood.


  • Social Studies (Heritage and Identity; Cause and Consequence, Continuity and Change, Patterns and Trends)
  • Health & Physical Education (Mental Health & Emotional Well-being, Healthy Relationships)
  • Science & Technology (Understanding Life Systems)
  • The Arts (Drama, Music)


  • Empathy
  • Kindness and Caring
  • Honesty


by Teresa Przybylski

The Secret Garden was one of my most favorite books. It contained all elements of a perfect story: sadness, mystery, overcoming obstacles, changing the life of everybody around for the better. It is written in a language that is exceptionally evocative. It is a feast for imagination. I was very excited at the prospect of designing an environment on stage that would help to tell this fantastic story but also terrified. I was contemplating: is it possible to come up with the design that will be as magical as the book?

For me the main challenge was to change the restrictions of the theatre into assets that will ignite children’s imagination and will make them experience the story in a different way. I knew and admired the work of the director of the play Allen MacInnis as we have worked together on several productions before. We decided that the set elements need to change seamlessly when showing various interior scenes and gardens; that we should create an exciting visual feast at the end of the production to stress the goodness that happened in front of us. I created a wall that is designed to be shown as wall of a garden or as a very tall wall of interior room. This element has a lot of versatility in the way it can be experienced. Actors will have an important role in the set changes; in addition to their parts, they will become choreographers and storytellers through the manipulation of various elements of the set.

It is an exciting process for all of us on the design team. Set, lights, costumes, sounds, all of the elements in this production have to work together in order to accomplish the enchanted experience of this extraordinary story. We do hope we can give justice to this magical tale but in the end it will be the young audience who decides whether we succeeded or not.


  1. What is the difference between the terms “illness” and “wellness”?
  2. Why do children like secret places like forts, hideouts etc.?
  3. What do children need to be happy?
  4. How can children solve problems for themselves? When do children need adults to help them?
  5. What is curiosity? Describe feeling “curious”.


Pre-show Warm Up: Guided Imagery

Ask students to find a quiet space in the room to lie down by themselves. Using a soft voice, lead them through guided imagery that takes them through a beautiful garden. Ask them to close their eyes and imagine themselves lying on soft grass on a warm day. What sounds might they hear? Birds chirping? Wind moving slowly? Ask them to imagine a gate nearby with a garden on the other side. In their minds, they get up and walk through the gate into a beautiful garden. Ask them to think about what kinds of flowers are in the garden; are they still growing or are they in full bloom? Ask them other guiding questions, prompting them to imagine a full garden scene. What does it smell like? Is there a stream? A pond? What makes this garden special? Is it their own space or will they invite others into their garden?

Once you have completed the guided imagery, ask students to share what was in their garden. Choose four gardens to explore physically. Divide students into groups and have them create tableaus of their gardens. One group at a time, have students show the class their tableaus. Students may add sounds to their tableaus if they wish.

Pre-Show Exercise: Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, How Does Your Garden Grow?


  • Mural Paper
  • Crayons
  • Markers
  • Pastels
  • Strips of Writing Paper


  • Divide the class into two groups.
  • On mural paper, Group One will create everything that is needed to make a garden grow and a picture depicting the planting of a garden as well as images of its growth over time.
  • Group Two will draw a picture of a baby growing into a child of 12. What does the baby need to grow and thrive? What does a child need to grow and thrive?
  • Have the groups compare their drawings. How are they alike? Looking at the images they have created, have students brainstorm ideas of all the things humans need to grow and be safe and happy. Ask them to write down their ideas on strips of paper. When they have finished brainstorming, ask them to rank the needs from most important to least important. Ask each group to present their ideas. How did they decide the order of importance? Do the other students agree with the ranking? Why? Why not?


  1. Describe Mary at the beginning of the play: How does she change? What makes her change? When does Mary begin to change?
  2. Describe Colin at the beginning of the play: How does he change? What makes him change? When does Colin begin to change?
  3. How do Mary and Colin figure out how to help themselves? What role do adults play in their healing?
  4. Describe the relationships between the children and the adults in this play. Who is in charge of whom at various points in the play?
  5. What is the source of Colin’s illness? What makes him feel better mentally and physically?
  6. Describe the relationship between Mary and Robin Redbreast. What does she learn from him?
  7. The Secret Garden was first published in 1911. How have attitudes about illness and wellness changed over time?


Post-show Warm Up – I Am A…


Space in which to move


  • Divide the room into a performance space and an audience space. Ask the students to sit in the audience space (for younger grades, the group can sit in a circle with the middle of the circle as the performance space).
  • Explain what a tableau is (a frozen picture, that displays a scene or scenario). Ask students to define what they think makes a strong, visually interesting tableau (levels, distance between the actors, a strong focal point, facial and physical expressions).
  • Tell the students they are going to work as a class to build a large scale tableau of different kinds of gardens. However, they are not going to pre-plan what the tableau will look like.
  • One student will start the tableau. As the student enters the performance space ask them to state “I am a …” The student then tells the class what part of a garden they will represent (e.g. a flower, a tree, the grass) and then freezes in a pose.
  • Have another student join the tableau by adding the image created by the first student (e.g. I am a ladybug crawling on the flower, I am a bird sitting in the tree). See how many students can join the tableau.
  • After the first tableau ask the students what they noticed as new students joined the tableau. How did the scene change as more students joined? Did anyone make an addition that completely changed the scene?
  • Ask the students to clear the performing space. They are going to build a scene of a garden again, but this time they will build the scene to a specific prompt or combination of prompts. Use some of the prompts below as a guide:

Garden Tableau Prompts:

  • Emotion
  • Happy
  • Strange
  • Silly
  • Fantastical
  • Creepy
  • Angry
  • Time
  • Fall
  • Winter
  • Spring
  • Summer
  • The past
  • The future

As the students become comfortable working with the prompts, see what happens when you give a new prompt halfway through building a scene.

Debrief Questions:

  1. What did it feel like when you were creating a scene to a specific emotion or timeframe?
  2. As a performer in the scene, what did it feel like if the emotion or setting of the scene was changed halfway through the building of the tableau?
  3. As an audience member, what did it look like when the emotion or setting of the scene was changed halfway through the building of the tableau?
  4. How does one persons’ new choice affect the whole group? When does this happen in real life?

Post-show exercise: Misslethwaite Manor: Before and After

Before the exercise, reflect on the performance the students saw with a special emphasis on the set. What did the set look like? Did it remind them of anything? How and why did the set change through the course of the play?


  • Paper
  • Crayons
  • Pastels
  • Pencil crayons


  • Read students the following excerpt from The Secret Garden:

Mary: This is a queer place.
Medlock: Aye, six hundred years old and near a hundred rooms in it.

Mary: What is that sound?
Medlock: The wind blowing across the moor.
Mary: The moor?
Medlock: It’s a desolate and dangerous place where nothing grows but heather and broom. The Manor sits on the moor. The wind howls like this all the time.
Mary: But there is something else besides the wind.
Medlock: Don’t be foolish.
Mary: It sounds like a child crying.
Medlock: It is the wind!
Mary: No it isn’t, it’s…

  • Have students work in groups to draw a before and after picture of Misslethwaite Manor. In the “before” image, do they imagine the house to be dark or light? How do they imagine the moor? In the “after” picture ask them to consider how the house might look as Mary, Dickon, Colin and the garden change through the story. How will this affect which colours they use?
  • Once groups have completed their pictures ask them to create a soundscape to go with each image. Either use the text above or brainstorm some adjectives as a class to describe the manor at the beginning of the play. Students may use these words in their soundscape for atmosphere.
  • Have groups present their pictures and soundscapes to the class.
NOTE: The Ontario Arts Curriculum K-8 defines “soundscape” as:
A combination of sounds used to create an atmosphere or to enhance important moments of a scene. Students work as a group to agree on and produce the desired sound effects, using voice and/or instruments. This strategy requires careful listening as well as group cooperation and sensitivity.

Extension (Grades 4-6)

Staying in their groups, have students create an “HGTV” style scene presenting the pictures of their houses as a before and after renovation show. Ask them to think about the format of these kinds of shows. Who will be the host? How will they describe the manor in its “before” state? Have students create an architectural layout of one of the rooms using graph paper and cut out shapes to represent furniture and fixtures. Ask them to be as detailed as possible, taking into account the space available and the measurements needed to arrange the room in their desired format.

When it’s time to present their scenes, ask students to think about how they will reveal the transformation. What will be the reactions of the residents of Misslethwaite? Ask them to think of a creative title for their show (eg. Hit or Misslethwaite! Moor Life). Create a video of the scenes and email them to YPT – they might be featured on our blog!

Debrief Questions:

  1. How does a change in the home environment affect the residents of that home?
  2. How does the presence of nature in a home or having a garden contribute to the overall home environment?
  3. If students live in a city, where can they go to explore a garden?