Growing plants in the classroom is an adventure for sure! If you are anything like me when I first started teaching, you have a lot of questions. When should we start growing plants? What is the best way to do this? Will we stay clean? How do we pour dirt without getting it all over the carpet? How can my students observe the plants without all the pushing and shoving because it’s too crowded? What if they drop their plants? Who is going to water them? When do they go home? And so many more questions!!!
If you have many of the same questions just hang tight…I’ve got some answers that will help you.
Introducing The Plants
This is something you could start in the second or third week of April. We discuss examples of things that are living vs nonliving. The kids come to realize that plants are also living. We discuss how this life cycle begins. I read stories to help facilitate this discussion and show lots of pictures of a variety of plants. Then I show them some seeds and let them know they will be growing their own plant. They are so excited to start growing plants in the classroom!
What Should We Grow
There are so many options! Do you want to grow a vegetable? Radishes are fun to grow! Grass seed is great too! Do you want the kids to see the roots? Put a bean in a plastic bag, hang it on the door for light and watch the roots grow! How about a flower? I love planting Zinnias! They only take 6 days to sprout. If you start the plant on a Thursday, by Monday you will see something happen. You could plant a variety for the kids to observe but for the purposes of this blogpost I will show you how I grow Zinnias.
How To Plant The Seeds
There are two ways to do begin growing plants in the classroom. One involves calling kids to the back table and having them plant the seed in soil that is already prepared for them and the other way involves kids putting in their own dirt first, then planting the seed. Let me explain them both better.
The first way we use a seed starting greenhouse with a tray that houses the peat pellets. This allows students to quickly add 2 to 3 seeds with very little mess and they are all in one neat little tray and easy to transport. You will just write their names below their plants. If the tray is black, get a white or sliver pen and if the tray is white a black sharpie works well. I also use a grow light since they will be grown indoors most of the time. During the day I do set the tray outside to get some natural sunlight as well. Here is a picture so you can see my setup:
It’s a great set up but here are some disadvantages. The kids don’t experience putting in their own soil, they can’t take their cups to their tables so that everyone can make observations at the same time and it has to get transferred into a pot eventually when they take the plants home. However, if you are looking for an easy (at first) set up that comes with full directions and also simple to transport in and outdoors you might like doing it this way.
Now for the crazy way…but OH SO FUN! Put down a tarp outside your room. Bonus points with your custodian if you have a door that leads outside. Extra bonus points if you have a parent helper (or someone) who can assist with this process if your class is going to be inside and outside at the same time. Purchase some mini terra cotta pots and using a dark sharpie pen write each student’s name on their pot. Decide if you will have them decorate the outside of the pot or not. If you do, you can have them use sharpie pens, acrylic paint pens or chalk paint (any type of marker/pen that is water proof). They will need to decorate a day or two before planting.
When you are ready for your students to plant, take them outside three at a time (this is why you need someone to help) on the tarp and have them pour the soil into the pot using a plastic cup – full but not to the very top. Have some pitchers or cups with water ready. The soil will settle after watering so the students will get to add a little more soil and water. Then have the students use their pinky to poke a small hole (about the size of an eraser tip on a pencil) in the soil. They will put 2 or 3 seeds in the hole, cover up the hole and use a spray bottle to water the top after planting, if needed. Set the pots in a container. See the picture below for an example of the pots and container I use:
When all the students are finished planting take the tarp to the grass and shake it off so you don’t get dirt all over the blacktop or cement. OR put some plastic down that you can just toss in the large dumpsters that many school have. This helps keep the mess to a minimum. Another tip is to plant a few extra seeds in case a plant does not germinate or in case of accidents. If students spill some dirt in the classroom it’s easy to vacuum up and handy if you have your own little dust buster to bring into the classroom during this unit.
Caring For The Plants
Plants need sunlight, air and water. When they are first planted the soil will be soaked and it will be fairly wet. After that you will want to keep them watered as the soil starts to dry. I just put water into a spray bottle and spray many of them at the same time. However, I do let the kids use the spray bottle a few times and water their plants but I do go back later and make sure they are wet enough.
The reason I keep them in a container is because I like to set them outside my door and it’s easier to carry in and out. This way they get some sun. However, I also have a grow light that mimics the sunlight as well. Of course, they can get the air inside and outside the classroom.
Give them an observation journal to record the growth of their plant. I have one that I have created. It’s FREE…you can’t beat that! Just click the picture below.
Give your students time each day to either go over (in small groups) to their plant and observe or let them bring their pot to their table. Some days it will be a quick observation and other days your students can write/draw in their observation journals. Here are some examples of two of the pages (choose the page that works for your class and needs):
Just choose the page you want and copy what you need (depending on how many observations you plan to have your students record – you can skip days), add a cover and staple. Here is the difference between Day 6 and Day 8. They grow fast and are fun to watch.
Sending Them Home
I usually send them home after two weeks (sometimes sooner depending on when our unit is finished). By then we have seen a lot of growth but there is still time to plant them outside and continue to make observations at home.
At the end of the day they get on their backpacks and are all ready to walk out the door and I pick up a plant and call that student’s name to come get the plant and carefully line up. They are so excited about their plants that I don’t hear them arguing about who got in line first! I show them how to hold on to the bottom of the pot with one hand and the side with the other and out the door we go! You could also give them a plastic grocery bag or small paper bag with the plants in them (have those prepped with names on the outside ahead of time to save your sanity).
If you start this in April, you can send it home the weekend before Mother’s Day. They will have their pots decorated for their moms (or special ladies in their lives) and you could give them a bag to decorate as well. This will keep the plant safe as they travel home that day but also act as a form of wrapping paper. I also have a FREE song they could learn especially for Mother’s Day.
Other Plant Activities
Here are a few activities and lessons you can use during your plant unit as you are growing plants in the classroom.
Your kids will LOVE growing plants in the classroom!
P.S. If you want to hatch chicks in your classroom you should check out the blogpost below. That’s another fun lesson during your living and nonliving unit.