Exploring Biology Everywhere with Kiddos
Here's a fun activity that I did with my son that you can try on your own. I've included suggestions for adapting to different ages and leading questions that you can use to help explore biology.
I'd love to see pictures of your progress, so please share them with me :-) I'm also more than happy to answer any biology questions that you (or your kids) have as you're going through the process. Just shoot me an e-mail at melaniepefferphd (at) gmail or comment on this post.
Basic Materials needed:
-Any kind of clean CLEAR plastic bottle (for safety reasons, drink bottles are better than something that formerly held cleaning products)
-Seeds (sunflower works really well, but you can use anything). If you can, try to get at least two varieties.
Parent-brain-saving-tip: Task older kids with collecting the materials for you and/or making a list of what you might need to get at the store.
1. Prep your bottles. I used 2L pop bottles that I cut in half. Then my husband drilled holes in the bottom to allow excess water to run out.
Parent-brain-saving-tip: Older kiddos can help prepare the bottles.
2. Put dirt in the bottles. This is a great activity to go outside and let a toddler do. My kiddo loves to practice "transferring" anything from one contained to the other. Kids as young as 1 can do this and it's great for their motor development.
Parent-brain-saving-tip: Making messes and learning to clean them up is great for your child's development. Letting them make a big mess somewhere where it doesn't stress you out is good for you too! And, it can provide lots of cheap entertainment for your kiddo!
3. Plant seeds--you want the seeds to sit on the sides of the plastic bottles (we'll come back to why this is important). Before you plant them, have you child compare the different seeds.
Things to talk about with your kiddo: What do the seeds look like? Are they the same or different? Why do they look different? Do you think the plants that grow from the seeds will look different? Why? For older kids, you can relate this to genetics (different kinds of plants have different genes and look different from each other). You can also make predictions about what the seeds will look like as they grow--will it be similar or different? What parts will be similar, and which parts will be different?
4. Water the plants and place on a tray to catch excess water in the house. Check plants daily for changes.
Parent-brain-saving-tip: Same comment with the dirt. Toddlers love transfers--let them water the plants outside and/or clean up any messes made inside. For older kiddos, they can be responsible for checking to make sure there is enough water, look for changes everyday, and record what they see each day.
5. Make observations. This is why it is important to plant the seeds near the edges of a clear bottle--so you can see when this process happens.
When did the seeds germinate or begin to put out shoots? Did all of the seeds germinate on the same day? Can you find the developing roots (white) or shoots (green)? Why are parts of the plant green and others not? (answer- the green parts have chlorophyll which is used to capture sunlight--plants use the energy from the sun to make their food-dirt is not food, it provides micronutrients that help plants grow--the superpower of plants is they turn sunlight into food!!!) How do plants know which way to grow? Why did the seed germinate now and not before? What do plants need to grow? How fast do the different plants grow compared to each other. I'd love to see pictures and hear about your observations--please share by commenting on this post!
6. Extension activities.
Relationship to real science: Making observations is an important part of how science works. Collecting many observations overtime can be used to develop new hypotheses or theories. This kind of research is called inductive or theory building. It's different from how many people think about science. The typical "science fair" way of thinking about science requires a control or no treatment group or testing a hypothesis. This is called theory testing or deductive research. Both are valid ways of doing science, but each way is uniquely suited for a particular kind of question. After you've made your observations (between different seeds, time to germination, time to growth), can you propose a hypothesis that you could test?
Biology in the pantry: Have you ever seen an onion or potato sprout? Why do root vegetables like onions, potatoes, garlic, and carrots do this, but the seeds we planted do not? Both root vegetables and seeds have all of the instructions necessary to make a new plant. Root vegetables contain more energy and resources to make it happen--that's why an onion will sprout in a sunny corner of your kitchen. Seeds have just enough to get started, but need more water and nutrients from their surroundings to be able to produce a full plant. You can also take portions of root vegetables (like a piece of potato with an eye) and plant them outside to get new plants. This is a great way to turn food scraps into new plants (and another thing for you to try at home!) What does it take a seed to get started versus a root vegetable? Which root vegetables sprout the fastest? What does this tell us about where we should store root vegetables that we intend to eat?