Growing Learners: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Investigating Plants and Flowers
Engage young scientists in these inquiry-based lesson ideas to spring into learning about nature.
By Christen Amico
As most parents and teachers of young children know, there is no better way to engage in hands-on learning than to embark on outdoor explorations and discover living things. Poky pine cones, smooth acorns, and spiky rose bushes are great springboards for little ones’ natural curiosity, and the best part is that they can be linked to a wide variety of other academic topics.
One of the easiest plants to grow is grass. The seeds are cheap, and they grow quickly. To begin this activity, have children decorate a white Styrofoam cup with wiggly eyes and markers to create a face. Fill the cup with soil and grass seed. Place in sunlight and water daily. In a few weeks, the grass will grow and look like hair on top of the face. Children can keep track of their grass guy’s hair by drawing, photographing, or writing about the changes they see. The lesson can utilize math skills such as calculating the exact number of days that passed from the day the seeds were planted until they grew. Each blade can be measured and recorded. Eventually, learners will need to give their grass guy a haircut!
Vincent Van Gogh’s famous painting Vase with Twelve Sunflowers is a great learning tool for integrating visual arts with science. Teachers and parents can use this painting to launch their own art lesson using tissue paper and construction paper to create a beautiful sunflower art project complete with actual sunflower seeds placed in the center. Follow-up activities can include eating sunflower seeds or planting them to grow in the fall.
A great way to teach about the important parts of a seed is to place a lima bean in a zipper sandwich bag. Cover the bean with a wet paper towel. Tape the bag in the window and watch how the seed coat separates and the stem begins to sprout. Within a few days, the roots will start to spread beneath the paper towel, and the children can truly see how important the roots are to gathering water for the seed. The seed will also change from white to green as it swells with water. Learners can document each stage of development and can then replant the bean into soil when it outgrows the baggie.
For young learners, the questions never really end. Teachers and parents can encourage critical thinking by allowing children to experiment with different plants by asking “What if?” Here are some examples of scenarios to try in class:
- What if we put the plant in the cabinet?
- What if we give the plant colored water? (try this with celery or carnations)
- What if we put a really large bulb in a tiny pot?
- What if we microwave the water before we give it to the plant?
- What if we use sand instead of soil?
These types of experiments would be great to put on display during Open House and would easily lead to extensive writing and oral language lessons.
Good scientists know that certain plants thrive in specific locations. Encourage your students to walk around a particular area (beach, desert, valley, garden) and record the number of each type of plant they see. They can graph their results and compare them. This would be a great activity to do with a buddy class in a different state or region. Teachers can plan lessons based on the results. A good idea is to plan to have discussions as to why each plant was able to adapt to that environment, and why certain plants dominate a particular area. A field trip to a botanical garden or farm would be a great way to wrap up this activity.
More Activities to Try:
Scientists of all ages can take on the challenge of this word search (it’s even shaped like a flower). This would be a great follow-up activity for early finishers or can be used to introduce vocabulary at the beginning of the unit.
Take a look at this plan that uses literature to build children’s knowledge base and then takes them on a nature scavenger hunt looking for plants and seeds! This is most appropriate for preschoolers or kindergartners who have little prior knowledge of plants.
Here is another great article that gives specific teaching strategies on teaching the life cycle of a plant.
Use this two-page reading passage about the importance of trees in conjunction with your regular language arts block to reinforce reading comprehension strategies as well as science. This activity is designed for 3rd or 4th graders.
Learners can get up close and experimental with various plants and seeds to discover specific parts and functions of plants.