Hands-On Learning, school garden

Teaching about plants…getting started.

Hey y’all!!

Why am I so happy you ask?

Because spring is just around the corner in my little neck of the woods. I know it’s not quite February, but soon the daffodils will be blooming, the trees will start to leaf out, and the frogs will be a-croaking. Pretty soon, the bluebonnets are going to start popping up on the sides of the road, which in my my book pretty much makes it official.

Yep…it will be summertime! (Or, at least, it might  as well be.) I love, love, love me some summertime. I’m kind of like Buddy the Elf, except summer is my favorite. I also love teaching life science topics at this time of year. I thought I’d share with you one of my favorite activities for teaching young students about plants.


Here in Texas, we use the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge Skills) for our curriculum standards. The second grade standards that are addressed are the following, and can easily be taught in tandem.

(9)   Organisms and environments. The student knows that living organisms have basic needs that must be met for them to survive within their environment. The student is expected to:

(A) identify the basic needs of plants and animals;

(10) Organisms and environments. The student knows that organisms resemble their parents and have structures and processes that help them survive within their environments. The student is expected to:

(B) observe, record, and compare how the physical characteristics of plants help them meet their basic needs such as stems carry water throughout the plant; 

So how do I do this? Well this is the activity that I start out with.

See this plant?


I cart this sucker to school every single year for it’s annual trim. (You can’t tell from this picture, but the vines reach almost to the floor!)

I then talk to the kids about the parts of a plant. You can always do a good read aloud. I really like Oh Say Can You Seed?: All About Flowering Plants (Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library) by Bonnie Worth. I usually just read the books in small sections, but once we have read about roots, I will stop and show the kiddos my lovely ivy. Then…I start cutting sections of the stems off. Like this:


I take cuttings that have two leaves and then give each student their own cutting. The kids can be pretty dramatic. Some of the them will gasp when I make the cuts, and others will make comments about how sad it is. Drama.

Then I instruct them to remove the lower leaf (below).


Now, do you see that little brown bump that I have circled? Well that, my friends, is the beginning of a new root. These grow all up and down the length of the stem, but I don’t even mention this to the kids. In fact, out of the forty-seven kiddos that did this activity, only one noticed them. The rest picked them off…imagine that.


Next all of the students are given a biodegradable pot that they fill (heaping) with potting soil and then flatten down with their hand. (I only use these kinds of pots because I had a whole bunch from some science materials that we already had on campus. You can easily use a small container with holes punched in the bottom for drainage. No need to get fancy-schmancy.) We poke a hole in the center of  the soil with our pencil and then stick our cutting into it, making sure to cover up the area where we removed the leaf (this is where the new root will grow). If your stem is too long, just cut some of the end off. You WON’T hurt it.

Here’s what you’ll have:



At this point, the kids draw, label, and describe their activity in their science journals. They also make a prediction based on what they have learned about plant parts. Usually they predict that the plant will die because there is no root system. However, this year’s group seems to be an optimistic bunch. Check out some of their predictions:


Then we place all of our pots into a tray and water them (if your potting soil is really dry, water from the bottom by pouring water into the tray and letting the soil soak the water up). At this point, I tell my kids that if they can get their plants to stay alive (which they will), then they can keep them (which they do…yay!!). In May, I send these home with the kids and they get to give them to Mom for Mother’s Day! (One year a student brought me a picture of his plant to show me that it had survived the summer vacation…lol)

I then put the trays into the mini green house under the grow lights. If you don’t have this equipment…don’t worry. Just place them in a bright spot with indirect sunlight. You will have to check them more often to make sure the soil is moist. Kids love to water the plants, and this could even be one of your jobs.


Have your kiddos observe their plants about twice a week. They will notice that they are still alive and in a month or so, the plant won’t yield as easily when they gently tug at the stem. That’s because the plant is growing new roots.

I’ve made a fun foldable to help your students assimilate their new information during this activity. I like to copy this as a two-sided brochure and then have the kiddos glue into their journals. I even included little dots for the glue as a reminder that the page doesn’t need to be soaked…dot, dot, not a lot!

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