Kid-Friendly Gardening: Making New Plants from Old
Looking for more gardening fun with your little ones? If you (or your child) has a green thumb, go beyond planting seeds and discover more about plants, growth, and the natural sciences.
Even preschoolers learn natural science best when they’re able to go deep, rather than broad. So feed the passion for all that goes on in the garden – and teach them how to grow new plants from old ones. You’ll be nurturing your child’s sense of adventure and curiosity, helping to develop an understanding of the natural world around them, and introducing some pretty cool science.
Gardening As a Life Science Experiment
For young children, lectures and formal lessons can be a real snooze. They simply don’t have the attention span to listen for long periods. Instead of merely talking about our amazing natural world, delve into some hands-on learning and experimentation with real materials.
This project, where kids will get to propagate a plant, offers the perfect opportunity to introduce many facts about natural science without getting too wordy. Kids will see results in action and better understand what’s going on.
And don’t be shy about using real scientific terms. It will be filed away in your child’s brain to connect with more learning and more concepts as they get older.
Building on Scientific Knowledge
When you grow new plants from old ones, you’re building on scientific concepts that your young children probably already know. They already know that plants grow and change and that certain actions cause certain results. Those are concepts used in scientific reasoning.
Watering a plant causes it to grow. Putting it in the sunlight speeds up the process. Some kids might even have the beginning understanding of systems of scientific classification, such as types of vegetables or types of trees. So keep in mind the level of knowledge your children already have, and build on it.
How to Get Started
Methods for propagating, or getting new plants from old ones, include: stem cutting, leaf layering, dividing the plant, root cuttings, and grafting. If you’re working with young children, stem cutting is the easiest method and a good place to start. With this method, newly rooted stems grow into a new plant, exactly like the old one.
What you’ll need:
- Sharp knife or garden scissors (keep them out of little hands!)
- Soilless potting mix
- Garden gloves for everyone
- A few 3” terracotta or plastic pots
- A drinking glass for water
What Is Soilless Potting Mix?
Soilless potting mixture is a sterilized combination of vermiculite, shredded bark of various kinds, and sometimes coconut fiber called “coir”. This mixture is light, drains very fast, and allows roots to develop more quickly than in garden soil. Use this in your experiment for best results. Garden soil is likely to have lots and lots of little organisms in it; some of them carrying potentially harmful plant disease bacteria.
Prepare the Pots
This will be messy so put a sheet of plastic, an old tablecloth, or newspaper on a table. Set the pots on a cookie sheet to catch the water that drains out. Fill each pot with the soilless potting mixture to 1 inch below the brim. Pat down gently and moisten it with water.
Go on a Plant Hunt, Snip And Cut
Start with something simple like the houseplant. Choose a stem that has at least 3 or 4 leaves close to the tip. Cut a 3 to 6 inch piece off the tip end that has at least 2 or 3 leaves attached to it. Four leaves will be even better.
Make the cut yourself if you are working with a child under 5, but let your older child take on the task, while you watch carefully. Remove the leaf closest to the cut end.
Snug in the Pot
Poke a hole in the potting mixture with your finger. Place the cut end of the stem snuggly into the hole and fill in the potting mixture all around it. Pat it down carefully and you’re ready to water.
Place the pot in a location with bright light, though not necessarily in direct sunlight. The plant creates new growth from the electromagnetic light of the sun. This is photosynthesis. It’s a long word to say to a preschooler but a memorable one nonetheless.
New roots develop in a few days or a few weeks, with varying rates for different plants. Tug very gently on the cutting and if there’s a feeling of resistance, new roots have taken hold. Now sit back and watch your plant grow.
Tools of Science
At this point, you might hand your child a magnifying glass for a close-up look at the plant. Your child will likely see little buds of green growth at the tip-end of the stem. There may even be a fine, hair-like root growing close enough to the topsoil to have a close look. So get observing!
Biological Change and Lifecycles
Through gardening with your child, you have the opportunity to nurture a potential interest in botany or other life sciences. As you get started on this project, notice the level of interest your child has. She may want to go on to other levels of experimentation such as measuring growth, identifying plant structure, measuring the effects of sunlight, or tracking plant life from seed to maturity.
Re-Pot to a Bigger Container
Let the plant develop new roots this way for a few weeks and then re-pot into a one-size-bigger container. Your child has a new plant of their own and a big load of science-learning under their belt.
Have you tried out some of the more advanced gardening techniques with your little one? Share your experiments with us!
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