Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
The nursery rhyme asks a valid question, and our children have accepted the challenge to answer it by doing some of the following simple projects. With sun, soil, water and a couple of seed packages, the entire family can observe the marvelous process of plant growth.
Before the children begin, they should make or buy a booklet. Have them label the cover with the title: "My Plant Book" and decorate it with crayon drawings. In the book, they can make sketches and record procedures and results as the activities are completed. With our children we used bean, sunflower and squash seeds.
Waking up the seeds. Materials: seeds, two small bowls, water. Set four seeds into each bowl and cover one set of seeds with water. Let them sit overnight and compare the seeds in the morning. Explain that the seeds are still dormant when dry, but once the seeds absorb water, they expand, open and begin to germinate--in short, they wake up!
Watching seeds sprout. Materials: an empty glass jar with a lid, seeds, paper towels, water. Layer three paper towels and fold them in half twice, the long way. Roll up the strip and place it snugly into the jar. Tuck the seeds (regular popcorn works well) into the jar between the glass and the paper towels, and water the paper towels until they're wet. Cover the jar loosely with the lid and observe for several days, keeping the paper slightly wet. Children can almost watch the roots grow downward while stems and leaves push upward.
Proving that plants drink water. Materials: two glasses, food coloring, water, fresh celery with leaves, a knife. Mix the colored water (red and blue work best) in glasses and set one piece of celery in each; or split the celery from the bottom, placing half in water of each color. Explain that food coloring is necessary because water is clear and difficult to see. After a few hours, remove and inspect the celery and leaves. Then cut cross-sections of the celery in various places to show how the water traveled upward.
Proving that plants need light. Materials: two paper cups, soil, seeds, water. Plant the seeds in cups of soil and wait until they begin to grow. Then continue to water both, but place one in open daylight and the other in a dark spot. Observe and compare the plant growth and appearance after one week, two weeks and three weeks.
Watching roots grow. Materials: one sweet potato, a jar or glass, water, toothpicks. Explain that potatoes, beets, sweet potatoes and carrots are roots--large roots with nutritious food in them. Pour water into the glass--about 3/4 full--and set the thin end of the sweet potato partly into the water. Toothpicks can be used to prop up the potato if the rim of the glass is too large. Within days, the children will be able to see a mass of new roots and stems sprout.