Kids love to get messy. Tactile learning activities provide opportunities for sensory exploration, and being able to touch and move what you’re learning about makes the lesson all the more real. Unfortunately, classrooms don’t often have the chance to bring tactile elements to their science lessons; live animal specimens can be difficult or dangerous, and few afterschool programs have the funds to take a field trip to different biomes. Luckily, there is one piece of afterschool science that is easy to come by: plants!

Gardening offers young learners plenty of chances to interact with what they’re studying. Whether it’s searching for different flowers on a nature walk to growing their own vegetable garden, horticulture is an easy, messy way to learn about the world we live in. Simple STEAM: 50+ Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math Activities offers activities on seeds, leaves, and plant growth to help teach the budding gardeners in your program. Give these fun activities a try and get your hands dirty!

From Seed to Plant

Materials:

How to Do It:

  1. While looking at seeds with the children, ask, “”What do you think the job of a seed is?” Tell the children that seeds come in many shapes and sizes. Some are little and some are big, but all seeds need the same things to grow into a plant. Ask the children what they think a seed needs to become a plant
  2. Tell the children that you will be answering this question with lima bean seeds. Give each child a magnifying glass to investigate the bean seeds. Have them record their observations in their STEAM journal
  3. Place half of the lima beans in a jar and submerge them overnight in water. Soaking the beans will make them easier to examine
  4. On the following day, invite the children to open the seeds that were submerged in water and investigate what is inside. Make observations about your findings. Ask, “Do you see the baby plant?” That is the embryo, a little plant inside the seed. Identify the different parts of the seed, including the seed coat and embryo
  5. Encourage the children’s curiosity by asking what would have happened if the seeds weren’t submerged in water, or what will happen if they are placed in soil
  6. Have the children do an experiment to determine what plants need to grow. Place some lima beans in a paper towel and others in a cup with soil in a sunny area
  7. Test the hypothesis by using no water, a little water, and a lot of water on each set of beans and record the information. Chart what you discover

Leaf Investigations

Materials:

  • Leaves of different shapes and sizes
  • Camera
  • Water
  • Measuring tools
  • Plants
  • Black bag for cover so the plant will not get sunlight
  • Plastic bags for bringing leaves and other items home
  • STEAM journal

How to Do It:

  1. Go outside with the children and ask, “What can you tell me about trees? What about leaves?”
  2. Listen to your child’s ideas and discuss them. Examine a tree up close and record the children’s observations about leaves and trees. Talk about what you notice about the different parts of a tree
  3. With your child, collect leaves from different kinds of trees of different shapes and colors
  4. Bring the collection inside, make comparisons about what you observe, and find the same and different characteristics such as size, color, and texture
  5. Encourage your child’s curiosity by asking “How are the leaves different or the same? What do you think they have in common?”
  6. Tell the children that regardless of their shape or size, all leaves have the same job. Leaves make food for the plant
  7. Hypothesize what the plants need to make food. What if one plant is in the sunlight and the other is kept in the dark?
  8. Find two plants to conduct this investigation. Move one plant to a dark room with no light. Place the other plant in sunlight. Continue to water both plants the same amount every few days
  9. Test the hypothesis and record observations or document the experiment with a camera every few days. Chart what you discover

Soil Erosion

Materials:

  • 3 empty milk jugs without caps
  • 3 bowls/containers
  • Garden soil
  • Mulch
  • Grass
  • Water
  • STEAM Journal

How to Do It:

  1. Begin a discussion with the children about erosion and vegetation. Ask, “What can you tell me about the word erosion? Why do we have grass, plants, trees, on Earth’s surface?”
  2. Record the children’s thoughts on what causes erosion and research further if they are curious to see the effects of erosion on beaches or mountains. Continue to explore ideas and questions throughout the activity
  3. To start, lay milk containers on their sides and cut out one side (to make an opening for the soil) in the three containers
  4. Fill containers with garden soil and press down firmly in the container. Put an extra inch of soil in bottle 1. In bottle 2 put an inch of mulch (wood chips, dead leaves, and sticks). In bottle 3, put a layer of grass could be removed from overgrowth of your yard)
  5. Place the three milk containers on a table where the neck of the bottle will overhang and place a bowl or container under each milk container to capture overflow water
  6. Slowly pour 1 cup on top of the soil and cover the soil surface in each of the jugs
  7. Encourage your child’s curiosity by asking “How much water do you think we will capture in our collection cup for each milk container?”
  8. Discuss what will happen if you add water over the next two weeks to each container
  9. Pour one cup of water every two days into each container and measure how much water is collected. Also note if anything is happening to the soil in the containers
  10. Test the hypothesis by measuring the water. Chart what you discover