Hands-on work is a good science teacher

May 05, 2006|by LISA PREJEAN

As mild weather increasingly draws us outdoors, the soil around our house seems to be calling for us to cultivate it.

The other weekend, I picked up a couple of flowering plants. My children and I had a lot of fun deciding where to plant them, taking them out of the pots, digging holes, placing the plants in the ground and filling the holes with dirt.

While we worked, we talked about what plants need in order to grow, the parts of plants and the functions of each of the parts.

From preschool age on, children can learn a lot of science by having hands-on experiences in the dirt. They can be taught that plants need to be watered, fertilized and sometimes harvested. They also can be taught that weeds need to be pulled.


They can learn that there are basically three parts to a plant: the roots, the stem and the leaves. Many plants also have flowers.

The roots are usually at the bottom of the plant and are typically covered by dirt. Their job is to provide support for the plant and to find water for it.

Children may find it interesting to know that some plants have one thick root while others have many thin ones. You can show them the difference by pulling up a dandelion, which has one thick root. Then show them tree roots that have poked up out of the ground.

Children also might find it interesting to know that many of the foods we eat are roots. Some examples of edible roots are beets, carrots, radishes, sweet potatoes and turnips.

The stem is in the middle of most plants. Its job is to move water and food along the inside of the plant and to support the leaves. Some stems are smooth. Others are rough.

Edible stems include asparagus, bean sprouts, celery and the stalks of broccoli and cauliflower.

Many children are surprised to learn that potatoes are stems that grow underground. When the "eyes" of a tuber are planted, the buds develop into new potato plants.

The leaves, which are on the top of most plants, make food for the plant through a process called photosynthesis. During photosynthesis, light energy becomes chemical energy. Light stimulates a leaf's chlorophyll, allowing cells to produce sugars from carbon dioxide and water. This becomes the plant's food.

Leaves that we can eat include Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, lettuce, spinach and turnip greens.

Children may enjoy classifying leaves in two groups: broadleaf or needle leaf. Broadleaf leaves are found on deciduous trees, ones that lose their leaves each year. Needle-leaf leaves are found on evergreens.

Flowers, fruits and seeds are the parts of a plant that are needed to make new plants.

Here's a plant-related activity that children may enjoy, and you don't even need a yard. It's a great way to combine science and math from the Web site for A to Z Teacher Stuff, at

Cut the top off of an empty milk jug, leaving the handle and the rest intact.

Guide your child in filling the jug with soil. Plant a rose seed, or another quick-growing flower seed in the soil.

Place a small ruler in the soil, next to where the child planted the seed. Water the plant daily, and make sure it gets enough sunlight.

Ask your child to record how much the plant grows in a week, two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, etc.

Most of all, have fun learning. Don't worry about the dirt under your nails. (Your kids won't even notice.)

Some of the information included in this column can be found in the BJU Press grade one science curriculum. For more information, go to

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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