10 ways to open up the world of growing things


Our herbarium. We started with very familiar plants (raspberry and spruce). Added bonus is some drawing from my, then 3yrs old, daughter

As spring is fast approaching, it is time to take a step to biology and the world of growing things. There is a plethora of things one can do with kids to help them understand, learn from and enjoy the world of green and growing things around them.

1. Go out, enjoy and get dirty

This is the most important thing one can do with kids. Take them out. Let them run, explore and get themselves dirty. My daughter had a thing for making goo in different pots last summer. She ripped up some grass, dug up some soil, added some water from our rainwater container and mixed everything up. We also walk to the forest nearby and she can build houses for squirrels and birds out of cones and twigs. Here, the less we adults interfere and just let them do whatever is they want (as long as it is safe), the better.

2. Study your environment

Find the tallest tree in the forest, or the smallest one. Find what trees have the smallest and largest leaves and teach your kids what these trees are. Same can be done with bushes, flowers, mushrooms. Take plant samples inside and study them.

3. Draw

Have the kid choose the most beautiful flower, pick it and draw it. Works also for trees, although does need taking drawing equipment outside as trees are hard to bring in. Basically works for everything outside.

4. Organise into groups

Collect different kinds of plants, or different kinds of rocks, or mushrooms etc. and then bring them in and study them. Ask the child to organise them into groups. He/she can use any kinds of properties as a basis for that organisation. The idea is to learn to look at specimen and notice that they are alike in some ways and unalike in other ways.

5. Craft projects

Make a poster of the seasons: This is a fairly simple craft project that can be personalised to what ever the parent and child feels like doing. Or in a school setting each can make their own. It is possible to collect things and blue them in, or draw, paint, print pictures from the computer or cut them up from journals. While this is happening, it is quite easy for the parent or teacher to talk about each season and suggest some other things that are happening then that the child might not have noticed. Also, when moving outside in different seasons, make note of the things that change and discuss with kids

Also, you can make an christmas elf using a cone and some red felt. You can collect autumn leaves and stick them onto a contact paper (the kind used to cover books) and put it against a window. There is no end to crafts projects made with the materials found mainly outside.

6. Grow things

This lets the kids get their fingers into the soil. It is also a recipe for getting everything quite dirty, so it is recommended to do this outside or in the shower, where you can wash both the place and child at the end. This can be done everywhere, even in the city, where nature can be hard to find. Basically this entails having a pot, filling it with soil, planting seeds in and watching them grow. My daughter likes flowers, so she grew violets last summer. Please remember to water the plants. This is where things tend to go wrong with me, as I do tend to forget. If you want to study the roots of the plants then one idea is to plant them in a glass pot. That allows one to study the roots of the plant as they grow.

7. Study soil

Collect some sand, soil, clay and what ever types of soil you have near your house. Study how they feel when held and touched, how they react with water, you can test for acidity, how messy they are, how easy it is to build with it etc.

8. Help around the garden

If you are lucky enough to have a garden, have the child help out planting, weeding, collecting edibles from bushes, growing boxes etc. Discuss about how everything changes as the seasons change.

9. Make a herbarium

We’ve been building up a herbarium for my daughter for a few years now. We started by collecting samples of plants, drying them below a book (covered the sample with newspaper) and putting them into a notebook with contact paper. On some of the samples I could write what they were, but along the years there are many samples which I do not recognise. So the next step, when daughter is a bit older, is to take up a book of plants and search those plants that we did not recognise at the time of collecting them. So it is not needed to recognise all plants, or any in fact. It is quite fun to start collecting samples with a very small child and they love this too. Then, when they get older and are interested, it is fairly simple to find that the plants are. If all are not recognised, then that is a perfect opportunity to reach out to an expert (or preferably have the child do this) to get help.

10. Study the world with a microscope and magnifying glass

With a small child a magnifying glass is quite sufficient. Mine carried hers everywhere and looked at everything before she lost it somewhere. It is somewhere in our house or garden now. We haven’t purchased a microscope yet. We’ll wait until she is older and is less likely to either lose or break it. But that is an excellent way of examining the world of the very small.

Copyright text and images: Satu Korhonen. You are free to try these experiments out, use them in your teaching. But instead of copying the text or images, link back to this page.

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