Looking for a way to get a little messy with your kids and learn something along the way? Why not plant a garden and explore how plants grow? Planting a garden can be as simple or as elaborate as you want it to be. Depending on the space you have available, you can set aside a portion of your backyard or just use a paper cup inside by the windowsill. You can successfully grow vegetables in containers on your front porch, too (and involving your kids in growing vegetables can be a great way to encourage them to eat them).
Wherever you decide to put your garden, let your child choose what he wants to plant. Be sure to do your own research first so you know what's in season and what will grow well in your climate. Planting small plants, in addition to seeds, will give your child something to look at while waiting for seeds to sprout. But don't skip the seeds altogether, your child may grow impatient waiting for things to happen, but it will be worth the wait! Discuss with your child what a plant needs to grow and have him help you plant the seeds or plants. Involve your child in the watering and, if you end up growing some vegetables, the harvesting.
You may want to do some experiments to help your child understand why a plant needs certain things to grow. What happens if you don't water some of the plants, will they grow as well? What about if you water too much? Will a seed grow if you plant it in the sand instead of the soil? Does the amount of sun a plant gets affect how it will grow? Try planting some seeds (of the same variety) and experimenting with different factors. Give one a lot of water, and don't water another one quite as much. Plant one in a very shady spot and another in a spot that gets lots of sun. You can easily recreate these experiments indoors by using several paper cups and planting the same seeds in each one. Give them different amounts of water, or place the cups in places in your house that will get different amounts of sun. Don't forget to help your child create a research journal to note her observations! Take some pictures every few days to document your growing plant. Create a collage with the photos, you'll be amazed at how much your plant grows in a relatively short time.
You may have some seeds in your kitchen and you don't even know it! Dry beans and avocado pits are especially good because they'll give your child an opportunity to watch the plant grow out of the top and the roots sprout from the bottom. For beans, place some damp cotton balls in a zipper baggie, place several beans on the cotton and seal the bag. Place the bag in a sunny spot (perhaps tape it to a window) and it will sprout quickly. For avocado pits, stick toothpicks in the pit so that it can balance on top of a cup. Fill the cup with water until the bottom half of the pit is covered with water. As the water evaporates, add more to ensure that the bottom third to half of the pit stays in water. Change the water every few weeks. Be patient, an avocado pit could take a month or two to germinate! Experiment with other seeds in the food you eat, such as apple seeds or watermelon seeds.
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