Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash. Image has been resized and cropped.

Kids Horticulturally Inspired Activities for Early Spring

You may not know this about me, but I used to be a homeschooler. Our homeschool probably wasn't what you imagine. It usually involved getting together with a group of families, with kids of all different ages, to explore some topic, loosely defined. Since so many people suddenly find themselves at home with their kids for the next 3 weeks, I thought I'd put together a list of horticulturally inspired activities to keep everyone busy. It's a little early for most growing projects. At least here in Toronto, the weather won't be good for planting for another few weeks. So, I've put together a list of spring activities that you can do right now. Pick one or two, or better yet, let your kids pick.

My advice is to not worry too much about what they learn, only worry that they are investigating stuff. My daughter says the most important thing she learned while homeschooling was how to learn independently. Now she's a PhD student and she uses this skill every day. If someone is bored, then they need to check the details more closely. It's almost always in the details, and kids are surprisingly good at details.

Turn over Rocks

This is just an example of looking for the details. It looks like just some boring old rock. Turn it over. At this time of year there is a whole slew of life happening under that rock. How many worms can you count? Ew what is that thing? A beetle larva? Rolly pollies are so cute! Look how they curl up! If you have a magnifying glass stuck in some drawer somewhere, this is a good time to get it out. Depending upon your student, you could just look at all the interesting creatures, or name all the creatures, or investigate the life cycle of one creature. You get the idea. Just remember that it is their home you are visiting. Put the rock back gently.

Go for a walk to look for as many signs of spring as you can find.

This could be a competitive contest or a collaborative activity. How many different signs can you find? Are there any sprouts up in the garden yet? What about buds swelling on trees? Are any of the trees in flower? What about mud. Sorry, mom, mud is a sure sign of spring. Splat.

Play Paleontologist

Take some used chicken bones, or maybe a toy dinosaur, and bury it. A sandbox would be good to contain the event, but not absolutely necessary. Let the kids discover it and carefully clean it up using a small paint brush. If you have a budding paleontologist on your hands, here is a great link for some ideas to improve that experience.

The Human Car Wash

You'll already know if this is right for your kids. Splat. It goes well with various mud exploration activities. Someone dresses up in a raincoat and acts like a dirty car. Someone else uses soft sponges and brushes and a hose to wash the dirty car. Actually, I think this is a grammar exercise. Human car wash. Is that human car, or human washer of cars? Afterwards, snuggle up to read the book Eats Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss.


Colin in a Tree, Image Credit Karen Morenz

Climb a tree and draw a picture

Depending upon the age of your kids, and their fitness level, you may want to be there spotting them, or you might just send them off. Good climbing trees have lots of sturdy branches near the ground and for new climbers a safety talk is in order. Also, avoid dead branches. Look down from this new perspective. Draw a picture inspired by the view from the tree. Or, climb higher than your friend, and snap a picture. You may want to do the drawing part at home, or in the tree, or at a picnic table.

Dissect a flower

Most spring flowers are great for dissection, as they have all the basic parts big enough to see. Another homeschooling mom already wrote this great blog post about how to dissect a flower with kids. .

Can you identify the trees by their bark and buds?

This is surprisingly easy, but takes practice. My son says that even though I've been "teaching" him for years, he still has no idea about trees, and this is a very specialized and skilled activity. I say, anyone could learn. Firstly, you need to learn some vocabulary about parts of the tree. Concepts such as tree shapes, alternate vs opposite branch structures, shape of leaf scar, shapes for buds, colours of bark all help. Then, with a decent resource, you'll be equipped to identify many of the trees in your neighbourhood. Here's a link to get you started. In a few weeks you can come back to the same trees and check out their leaves and flowers to find out if you were right.

Check out the seeds in your kitchen spices

Seeds are totally fascinating. Check out all the different colours, shapes, smells and flavours in your spices. Maybe you even have some spices that are used as whole seeds, such as pepper, celery seed, dill seed etc. With a toothpick, a bottle of Elmer's glue, a sheet of art paper and an ounce of creativity you'll end up with fresh artwork for the kitchen wall.

Propagate house plants

You could even plan a sale and have a little entrepreneurial lesson at the same time. Many houseplants propagate quite easily. For succulents, such as aloe or snakeplant, you usually take a leaf and let it dry out for a day or two and them simply plant the end of it in soil. Many other plants, such as Swedish ivy, root easily in a jar of water. (Which is pretty cool, 'cause you can see the roots!) There are so many resources on line for this, and it may depend upon the type of plant you have, that I'll leave it to you to do a bit of specific research.

Peter Griffin Image has been resized and cropped.

Grow food!

Bean sprouts grow easily from many of the dried beans and lentils you probably have in your cupboard. Sprouting is easy, and afterwards tasty and nutritious. But, please, do heed the warnings to make sure your beans start off clean and consider cooking rather than eating them raw.

Soil Art

Soil comes in all sorts of colours and textures, and is the basis of life. Try the art of soil painting. You don't need fancy stuff, just some supply of different colours of soil/sand, a bit of water and some Elmer's glue should do the trick. But, for inspiration, please watch this amazing video.

Forage for early spring greens.

Would you prefer to avoid the grocery store? Garlic mustard and dandelions are already growing and are perfectly edible. Harvest with a clean knife and wash them well. Steam or stir fry with lots of butter and garlic. Garlic mustard also makes good pesto.

Force forsythia branches to flower.

If you take a look at forsythia branches in the early spring, you'll see that they are all set to flower and just waiting on some warm weather. Cut a few and put them in a vase inside. In a few days you'll be rewarded with fantastic yellow flowers for your table.

This could lead to a discussion about how plants respond to environmental stimuli such as temperature and day length. And, even, perhaps, how one of the problems of climate change is that the insects and plants that rely on each other, may rely upon different environmental stimuli. Here is an article that discusses the changes in phenology (timing.) and has several links to follow up on the topic.

Write a story where the main character is a plant.

Choose a specific plant. What makes them joyous? What makes them angry? What do they need that is different from what another character in your story needs?

Food colouring and celery or flower

This may be something you remember from your childhood, but it never ceases to amaze anyways. Take a stalk of celery, or a flower, cut off the end freshly and stick it in a glass with food colouring. You'll be able to see the coloured water move up the stem in a few hours when the colour shows up at the tips of the leaves and petals. There is a great explanation of how it works and what processes are causing this to happen here.

Investigate why you should not use leaves as toilet paper

Sorry, I just couldn't resist adding in a toilet paper topic. Seriously, just don't.

Need more inspiration?

There are lots more ideas at this great website .

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