- Education and Science
Even More Fun Classroom Activities to Interest Children / Kids in Growing Plants
This is the third in my series of articles on fun classroom activities to get children/kids interested in growing plants. If you are reading this there is a good chance you will also find the other articles of interest. They can be found if you visit Fun Classroom Activities to to Get Children / Kids Interested in Growing Plants, More Fun Classroom Activities to to Get Children / Kids Interested in Growing Plants, Even More Fun Classroom Activities to Interest Children / Kids in Growing Plants and Fun Classroom Activities and Experiments to Interest Children / Kids in Animals and Pets
In a separate article I cover another very popular topic and that is How to grow your child a living den or playhouse from willow or other plants.
Growing plants is a wonderful and relaxing activity, but it is especially great as a classroom activity for children to enjoy. Not only does it teach them about growing their own plants, but also how they grow, and what they require to thrive. You might be surprised at how many children who don't even realise where chips / fries come from and have no idea that they have anything to do with potatoes. I find this quite alarming as we seem to be bringing up a nation of kids who think vegetables come from supermarket shelves and not from the ground. What better education can you give them other than teaching them how to grow plants and vegetables for themselves, and learn to appreciate the superior quality, flavours and freshness of their own veggies. This also encourages children used to refusing to eat vegetables on their plate, to finally eat vegetables because they have grown them using their own hands.
Of course you don't have to grow vegetables in the classroom in order to capture your pupil's imaginations. There are lots of fun projects and tasks they can be set that will make sure they become fascinated with growing all sorts of plants. All they need is a teacher with a little imagination and a few good ideas.
Who Can Grow the Longest Carrot?
For this fun activity you will need either a number of four foot lengths of down pipes (vertical drain pipes) or some empty clean oil drums and enough sand to fill them. The best carrot seeds for this competition are New Red Intermediate or St Valery, as these can grow to two or three feet in length easily and will definitely have the 'Wow' factor for the children when they harvest them.
If you are using the drain pipe method I would allow each child at least 2, just in case one carrot plant dies off for any reason. Each pair of drainpipes can be tied together side by side so they support each other. These pairs of pipes can then either be placed on top of a soil bed (inserted a few inches into the soil), or stood in a box of sand in a sheltered sunny spot outside.
Carrots have very low nutritional requirements, and you will not want to feed them or you run the risk the roots will fork as opposed to them producing one long healthy root. The simplest way to grow a long carrot is to use a low nutrient growing medium such as moss peat, multipurpose compost or even last year's used/spent compost. There are more complex compost 'recipes' for growing long carrots in, and these require the adding of other ingredients such as Epsom salts, sulphate of potash, calcified seaweed etc to the mix.
Fill each pipe to within a couple of inches of the top and either use a bamboo cane to poke the compost down, or tap the sides of the pipe sharply to remove any air holes from the growing medium. The children can now water their pipes thoroughly and allow them to drain. Approximately 3-5 seeds per pipe should then be sown fairly close to the centre, but not so close together that thinning these down later on will break the neighbouring seedling or crush the foliage. Now each pupil will need to sprinkle about 0.5cm of compost on top of the seeds, before gently pressing this down to firm it. No further watering should be required at this point, or at least only dampen the surface compost if you use a trigger spray, (not a watering can). The top of each pipe can now be covered in cling film secured with elastic bands to keep the moisture in until the seeds germinate, which may take anything up to two weeks.
Once the seedlings appear the cling film can be removed and the seedlings kept moist with a trigger spray until they develop their first set of 'true leaves' (not the seed leaves). Allow the seedlings to reach a stage where it is obvious which ones are the weaklings, (this will take about a further week to ten days). Get the children to remove the weakest seedlings carefully, leaving themselves with one strong seedling per pipe. This is the stage the seedlings are most vulnerable, mainly due to the smell of crushed foliage that will have been caused by the thinning process. This smell attracts carrot root fly, and these will lay eggs at the base of the carrot foliage, from which hatch grubs that will damage the carrot roots and turn the foliage brown. Contrary to popular belief Carrot Root Fly will find their way higher than the 18" many believe is their highest point. Whether this is due to upward air currents or some other reason, trust me when I say they have even caught me out by getting into carrots grown in full sized oil drums. This can be avoided by the use of horticultural fleece as a barrier around the tops of the pipes, or by growing the carrots in a greenhouse. If using the fleece I would put bamboo canes or stakes around the perimeter of the pipes and attach the fleece to it in order to form a fleece 'cage' around the plants. Just make sure you can remove the fleece cage for watering purposes.
Watering will need to be done relatively rarely, although you should never let it get to the stage the carrots are bone dry. Too much watering will result in short roots because the carrots won't produce a long taproot seeking water. Too little water followed by a watering session will result in roots that have long splits down the sides of them. Once my carrot plants reach the stage they are about five inches tall I only water them about once a week, making sure they are thoroughly wetted.
Long carrots need about 22 weeks from sowing to harvesting, and you can begin to sow from around late February to March. When it comes to harvest time each pipe should be watered thoroughly and left to drain. The children then need to firmly grasp the foliage close to the base of the carrot and apply a gentle pressure whilst someone else holds the pipe in place (they may need to stand on a chair to achieve this). The carrot should gradually start to give way and pull free from the compost. If this isn't working carefully lift the pipe out of the sand and tap it sharply in order to cause the loose compost to drop out of the bottom. The carrot should slide out easily now and all the children can have their carrots measured to see who grew the longest ones. Trust me when I say they will be amazed and proud of the size of their carrots.
This activity can also be successfully achieved if the carrots are grown in the clean oil drums of sand I mentioned earlier, maximum of 6 carrots to one drum. This method, along with the full recipe for a good long carrot growing compost mix can be found on my website under the following link 'How to Grow / Growing Long Carrots for Exhibition and Show'.
Grow a Bucket of Potatoes
This is so easy as a project it is unreal, but the kids will just love the magic of emptying out their bucket at the end of the growing season and seeing what treasure lies within the compost beneath.
Buy some seed potatoes either locally or from the Internet. The children will only need one potato per bucket or plant pot. When you have the potatoes each child should place their potato on in a cool light place such as a window ledge, (not in strong sunlight) for several weeks to allow the potatoes to 'chit'. Chitting is when the potatoes eyes are allowed to grow into shoots and develop a few young leaves on the ends of them. When these shoots are several inches long the seed potatoes are ready to be planted.
Each student will need a bucket, large plastic plant pot or even a potato planter bag. If using a bucket holes will need to be drilled in the bottom of it. Again a good multipurpose compost works perfectly for this. Just get each pupil to quarter fill each bucket with the compost and water it in order to make sure it is damp. They can then carefully lay their potato on the surface of the compost with the shoots pointing uppermost. Now they should use further compost to very gently raise the level of the compost in the bucket, just covering the potato and the shoots in the process. By now the bucket will be about half full of compost and can be gently watered again and place in a sheltered sunny location. Over the coming days the foliage from the potatoes will continue to push through the compost on a virtually daily basis, and each time they emerge the students need to cover them again with compost until the level of the compost reaches to just below the surface of the bucket of pot. Throughout the process the compost should be kept moist, but not wet. Depending on which potatoes are grown, they will take between 10-15 weeks from planting to harvest.
Experiments with Light
This can be done simply using plants such as tomatoes or peppers. All you will need is a number of young healthy plants for your pupils to use for the experiment, or you can perform the experiments as the teacher and allow the pupils to witness the results as they occur. Due to the amount of plants that might be required for a larger class you might opt for conducting the experiments yourself and getting the children to write up about what you did, the results etc.
The first and most obvious experiments will illustrate a plant's need for light to flourish. You can begin by getting a healthy plant an placing it in a completely dark cupboard for several days to a week. Each day / lesson the children can look at the plant and note any changes, perhaps even take photos. As the days go on the plant will gradually become more sickly looking, the leaves will begin to go yellow and the growth will cease. If you don't let this process go too far you can return the plant to a well lit location towards the end of the experiment in order to illustrate the plant returning to health when again exposed to sunlight, therefore able to photosynthesise naturally once more.
Another interesting experiment can be conducted by placing a tomato plant or a herb etc, a little way away from the window, but close enough that it will sense where the light is. It will only take a few days before it becomes obvious that the plant is leaning towards the light. Again this proves a plant's need for light, and even rotating the plant will prove to the class that the plant will adjust itself and again lean towards the light.
Further experiments can be conducted as per a comment made on my first article. Although this might be more suitable for an older age group, it should prove a fascinating classroom experiment involving exposing a plant or plants to different wavelengths of light. To quote from the comment "My daughter is doing her science fair project this year on how different wavelengths of light affect the growth of plants, and we need a good quick growing, hardy plant to grow in a container for this. She will direct different colors (wavelengths) of light into a darkened container, and see which light source the plants grow toward." I really love this idea as a classroom project too, so much so I feel it is worth adding to this article, along with thanks to 'BuddleiaGirl' who made the comment on the first article. I suggested tomatoes, sunflowers or even cress as potentially suitable plants to use for this experiment.
Propogate a Succulent from a Leaf
Succulents produce new plants incredibly easily, and a fun project for your students is to give each of them several of the fleshy leaves from a succulent plant. All they need then is a small pot of slightly damp, gritty compost. if they place all of their leaves upright and flat on the surface of the compost, these will naturally produce new leaves followed by roots from the broken end of the leaf where it met the stem of the parent plant. During the process the new plant will not need watering until the roots reach into the gritty compost. The moisture it requires in the short term will be taken from the fleshy leaf that it is growing from, and as a result the leaf of the succulent will gradually shrivel up during the growing process. Simple, but fun to watch and produces a fairly rapid result. If you visit this site you will find some excellent illustrations of the process.
Whilst these are not so much an activity, I do believe they hold a fascination for most kids, not least because of the nature of how and what a carnivorous plant eats. The great thing about carnivorous plants is that they catch their insect foods in all different ways, whether through sticky droplets on their leaves, through trapping insects in the pools of liquid they contain or by giving off odours that mimic rotting flesh so that insects will wander into their mouth-like traps. As you have probably guessed I am referring to plants such as Cape Sundew (drosera capensis), various pitcher plants and Venus Fly Traps (Dionaea muscipula) to name but a few of the better known ones. I would suggest it would a fabulous classroom feature to create a Carnivorous Plant Garden. There are numerous plants that capture and digest insects to survive, and the three I have listed here are the tip of the iceberg. If you click on the link to carnivorous plants at the start of this section you will get loads more ideas for plants you could include in this unusual classroom feature. When I used to have Venus fly Traps I remember being fascinated to discover a trap had closed, then hold the plant up to the light and see the fly silhouette within the trap, and therefore being digested by the plant. It is important however to make sure the children do not artificially cause the traps to close though (using pencils etc), and equally important they do not bring dead flies to feed the plants. Both of these actions will result in the death of the plant in a fairly short space of time.
Other Articles in this Series
- Fun Classroom Activities to Interest Children / Kids in Growing Plants
There are several fun classroom activities that will get children interested in growing plants and finding out more about them. Some of these activities were what first captured my imagination as a child, and are the reason I still love growing......
- More Fun Classroom Activities to Interest Children / Kids in Growing Plants
If you read my first article on fun classroom activities to get children or kids interested in growing plants or gardening, then you should enjoy this one too. I have written this as a sequel to the first article and hope it will give teachers.......
- Fun Classroom Activities and Experiments to Interest Children / Kids in Animals and Pets
This article suggests various fun activities teachers and parents can try that will develop children's interests in animals and pets in ways that will fascinate them and capture their imaginations.