Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Mystery of a Seed

Children love growing things.  They love to explore the outdoors and all the wonders the natural world possesses.  The prospect of bringing a child into your well ordered garden might dismay you.  However, I would encourage you to take the risk.  There are few things that will make a greater lasting impression on a child than meaningful experiences with the natural processes involved in nurturing growing things.  They will gain a respect for life, a curiosity about the world around them, and encouragement in the area of science.  The garden is a wonderful playground that has a million lessons to teach.  We will begin our exploration with the discovery of the mystery of the seed.

We will begin with a bean seed.  Any type will do.  For a first exploration simply sprouting a bean seed on a wet paper towel may be enough.  However, if you have an especially interested child I would like to suggest taking this exploration a step further.  As I am writing this it is winter.  The ground is frozen and nothing seems to be growing in our yard.  My daugter sees me pouring over seed catalogs with interest and wonders aloud why we can not plant anything now.  I tell her it is too cold.  Then we decide to investigate the effect of temperature on seeds.

The seed racks are once again in the stores and it is a simple thing to pick out a pack of green bean seeds.  We talk about what a seed needs to germinate, water, warmth, and in some cases sunlight.  I ask her why we wait until spring to plant our garden.  She suggests that the seeds can not grow through the snow.  I ask her why the snow would stop a seed from growing.  She says its too cold.  Now we have something to investigate!

1. Gather your supplies:
       You will need at least 3 zip lock baggies.  A packet of bean seeds.  Several paper napkins or towels.

2. Discuss what places around your house are different temperatures.

    Possible locations are: the refrigerator, the pantry, the laundry room, the garage, the shed, under a pot in the garden, a drawer in their bedroom, etc.  Pick three that your child feels are very different temperatures. If it is winter I would encourage a child to consider at least one spot indoors!

3. Assemble your baggies.  Wet the paper towel and fold it with 3 or 4 bean seeds inside.  Place the wet paper towel with its seeds inside the baggie and seal it.

4. If you have a thermometer take an initial temp reading at each location and place your baggie in a dark spot.  Make sure to record where each baggie is located. the temperature, and the date.

5. Make a prediction about which seed will germinate first.  Be sure to record your predictions. You may want to take a moment and create a chart for your observations and a graph to record your results.

6. Take a moment to record the temperatures and open the baggies to observe your seeds each day.

7. After about a week you should see some growth from at least one of your baggies.  After about 3 weeks you will be able to tell what temperatures where best for germination.  Take a moment to discuss what your child learned.  Do not be surprised if your child wants to plant their germinated seeds in a pot in the house.  Who knows you might even have your bean plants flower!

Possible expansions: 
  • Grow a seed on a paper towel inside a cd case.  If you remove one edge you can water your seed and observe the growth of the roots!
  • Repeat the experiment with three different types of seeds. Consider trying an early spring veggie like spinach, a warm weather veggie like a tomato seed, seed that can take very cold temps like a pea seed, and a sunflower seed.
  • Try planting seeds at different depths in your garden.  Use the seed packet recommendations for at least one group and then see how much depth effects germination rates.