How to Turn Tiny Seeds Into Giant Life Lessons for Your Kids
This Spring, our curriculum centers around four themes, one of which is seeds. Metaphorically, we are always planting seeds of inspiration for new play adventures and new ways to connect with nature in the minds of each child. But, this season, we added a literal study of seeds, and we are thrilled to see what families are bringing to and pulling from our #PlantASeed project.
What is the #PlantASeed project?
By design, it’s quite simple. In the first class, we gave each family a packet of seeds and some directions about how to plant and nurture them into seedlings. Then, we all waited, watched and observed the magical moment when brave, green sprouts poked up through the soil. We’ve been watching photos of these marvelous seedlings circulate within class communities and on Instagram (#Tinkergarten #PlantASeed). The learning continues as families tend to, observe, and even make plans for their seedlings as they grow.
What can you teach (and learn) from planting seeds with young kids?
There is much to learn from this project, and you truly do not have to have a green thumb to make the experience transformative for your little sprouts. Here are just a few of the lessons we’ve pulled from planting seeds as a family:
Sensory stimulation: Children activate multiple senses in when they prep the soil, investigate seeds, water or mist the soil, and observe the bright green seedlings.
Patience: So many experiences are quickly, if not instantly, gratifying these days. But, watching a pot of soil for the appearance of a tiny seedling still happens on nature’s time. Just like the little boy in Ruth Crauss’s Carrot Seed, children can see that patience pays off, as that moment when you finally see green is like magic.
STEM skills: Even young children can get exposed to biology concepts and terms in an age-appropriate way by observing seedings. Also, when you stop each day to observe, talk about, and even document what you notice is happening with your seedlings, you also model how to think and act like a scientist. Children are born with the curiosity and penchant to learn through observation, and this kind of project teaches how to use these behaviors in an investigative way.
Responsibility: When you make it a family ritual to water the seedlings each day, children gain experience with caring for another living thing and learn that they have agency in supporting their seeds.
Serenity and reverence: Some seedlings thrive, transplant well and go on to be healthy plants. Many do not. The same is true in nature. Read Eric Carle’s The Tiny Seed once, and it’s a celebration of the persistence of the tiny seed. Read it again, and you realize that the majority of seeds in the book never get a chance—such is true in nature.
So, if your seedlings do not persist, that is okay. In fact, it’s a great lesson about life. It may also be a reminder to you, and even to your wee ones, that every plant we see around us has a truly remarkable survival story—most of the seeds of their kind did not make it. When you think about that, each plant we see in our environment is an even bigger marvel than before.
Get and stay involved in the project!
If you are not part of the Spring Tinkergarten season, you can still share in this project. Check out our “Planting Seeds” DIY activity and try it at home. If you are already underway, you may be wondering, “Okay, our seeds sprouted, but now what?” Here are some options for how to learn with kids, once your seedlings are up:
- Notice: Learn just by observing and talking together about what comes up and how it changes over the days. Look at the differences between the simple “seed” leaf or leaves (known as cotyledons) and the “true” leaves of the plant that follow. Pull out one seedling and look at its root and its shoot.
- Draw or photograph what you notice each day, so you can go back to look at the change over time. Share your photos using #TInkergarten and #PlantASeed.
- Measure: Do not expect wee ones to understand standard measurement, but model measuring how many centimeters tall your seedlings are and talk about it with your child, sharing your excitement and interest in this information. If your child is interested back, see how many centimeters tall your child is!
What next for seedlings?
Seedlings can be hard to nurture into full plants, but worry not, there is much to learn no matter which path your seedlings take. Some options:
- Transplant your seedlings: If you would like to keep growing your seeding, wait until it has several weeks of growth, then either transplant it to a larger indoor pot or start to prepare it for planting outdoors.
- Acclimating seedlings: If your seedlings have grown up indoors, start to put the pots outdoors for long periods of time for a few days, avoiding rough weather days. This will prepare them for successful planting in their new outdoor home.
- Thin out your seedlings: If you have many seedlings growing right next to one another, you need to gently pull seedlings so that a few have the chance to thrive. It can seem hard to pull seedlings, but it is actually a great way to observe the full seedling, and you can still use the pulled seedlings to observe how the plants in our world that do not survive change and turn back into soil.
- If all seedlings peter out: You have learned so much just in the planting, sprouting and observing. Plus, you really can’t feel bad. Such a tiny fraction of the seeds that plants produce actually sprout, never mind surviving the bumps of early life to thrive as a plant. It’s the way nature is designed, and it may actually help you and your kids care for the plants around us, even more, to realize what a rare thing it was for each of them to make it in the end. Finally, a lesson in composting is a fine way to close this exploration, which is hopefully the first of many times you’ll plant and learn from seeds!
Extending the learning:
Harvest and taste the plants, if edible.
Try this marvelous fruit seed investigation from Scientific American’s Science Buddies.
Learn more through literature by reading books like Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss, The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle, or How Groundhog’s Garden Grew by Lynned Cherry.
Start to learn together about trees, nature’s greatest teachers.
Try again with a new variety of seeds!
I’m active in many different roles that make me proud. Aside from Tinkergarten, I’m working on a project with my husband for our non-profit, Soup, which focuses on using design, tech and community development for social good. We also oversee another project of ours, called Blocks, which lands prefab units (i.e. shipping containers) into California and onto properties to increase the supply of affordable housing in the Bay Area. We’ve installed three units in the past six months and hope to set up 12 more in the Bay Area this year. We’ve worked hard to build momentum for the project and to find ways to tangibly serve families in need.
What does a perfect day look like to you?
A perfect day would be getting my squirmy 16-month-old son into the car seat so we could actually get out! And once that happens, a great day would be heading to the trails in the beautiful mountains along Skyline ridge, a visit to Filoli gardens, or just finding any open patch of green to explore with my family. Any piece of nature qualifies, to me, as my safe and sacred space.
What piece of advice has proven most helpful to you as a parent?
Academics can wait. Let your child enjoy, play and explore. Brain integration doesn’t happen until age six, so don’t rush the academic process!