There are already early signs of spring all around us. The days are lengthening. Tiny Snowdrops (Galanthus) and Skunk Cabbages (Symplocarpus) are blooming. The maple sugaring season is in full swing, which means sap is flowing.
Your young children might be noticing the changes, as they are keen observers of the natural world around them. This time of year provides you and your children a great opportunity to start seeds indoors for later transplanting to outdoor spaces. Once outdoors, the whole life cycle of plants can be enjoyed as seedlings sprout, grow, produce flowers and fruits, then eventually produce more seeds.
Working with your children to observe and help with this cycle is a great learning opportunity. It has many parallels to how people grow and develop from tiny to little – and someday to big. It’s a helpful analog for some of the most important lessons that are part of a child’s vital development.
In an article titled Plant a Potato-Learn About Life (and Death), Hanna Perkins’ foremother Erna Furman wrote:
“The focus is on the whole life cycle, and whenever possible, on its generational sequence, allowing youngsters to understand better life and death and the connection between them… in a situation of minimal emotional significance.”
In the Hanna Perkins Kindergarten, we’ve started onion seeds for later transplanting to the Hanna Perkins School Garden. Next week we’ll be starting parsley, cabbage, broccoli, brussels’ sprouts and cauliflower.
We’re using seed-starting instructions and planting calendars from the Ohio State University Extension/Cuyahoga County to know exactly how to tend to and time our seedlings for proper transplanting to the garden. Our kindergarteners enjoy using data and guidance as they get their seedlings underway.
Thinking about starting your own seeds? Here are a few links to their resources to get you started:
Ohio State University Extension on Horticulture: How to start plants indoors
Master Gardeners of Cuyahoga County
In our experience at Hanna Perkins, we’ve found that the most important part of this process is to have fun and expect to learn together with your children. You don’t have to be an expert at it; just your investment and wonderment about planting seeds will be enough to foster your young child’s curiosity.
After all, curiosity is where all learning begins.
Like any skill, gardening takes practice. Also keep in mind, you’ll learn from your mistakes. Here are a few simple suggestions that might be helpful.
- Seeds need the right combination of warmth, moisture and air to germinate. Too much of any one of these might kill the seeds. For example, overwatering may eliminate the air in the soil and cause the seeds to rot.
- Seeds should be kept evenly moist, at about room temperature. You can teach your young children how to observe if the seeds need water, by allowing them to gently feel the surface of the soil to notice if it feels moist. We’ve observed that it’s sometimes difficult for children to feel slight moisture in the soil and it helps to keep a “comparison” container of dry soil nearby to allow children to see and feel the difference between the two.
- We’ve also noticed that young children love to water the seeds, which can lead to over-watering and subsequent disappointment. A simple explanation about why too much water is not good for the seeds (it “crowds out the air”) is also helpful. Children want the seeds to grow just as much as we do.
- Once the seeds have sprouted, continue to keep them moist, but not wet, and provide them with plenty of light and ventilation, while also being careful not to expose them to extremely hot or cold drafts.
- If seedlings are too crowded in their containers, you may need to replant them into larger containers, giving them plenty of space to grow. Children enjoy caring for plants in this way; it’s a great time to notice how we all outgrow things sometimes – and how the world accommodates our growth.
- Grow your plants until it is time to transplant them outside – typically after May 15 depending on the season and the plant you’re growing. Give your plants a slow transition to the outdoor environment, described as “hardening off” in the Extension Service literature.
Best of luck on your adventures into starting seeds indoors with your young children.
Laura Cyrocki manages Hanna Perkins’ kitchen and Hanna Perkins Butterfly Garden gift of the Hershey Foundation. In addition to her experience as a preschool teacher, she has a bachelor of science degree in botany.
About the Author: