I found myself browsing the seed rack at the nursery on a dreary day at the end of December and a fellow shopper walked by, smiled and said, “feeling optimistic?” Well, yes. Seed packets are a pretty affordable envelope of optimism - and one we can certainly share with children!
Britannica dictionary offers these two definitions of a seed: ‘A small object produced by a plant from which a new plant can grow’ and ‘the beginning of something which continues to develop or grow.’
So, when we incorporate seeds into a fun activity with kids, we are quite literally starting at the beginning to grow plants!
How to get going? Well, gather a few things:
With kids, I like to select slightly bigger seeds they can handle (though you can broadcast seeds with a salt shaker if they are small). I also look at the germination time on the packet - fewer days of germination get them closer to seeing growth on their young seedlings. For example, the back of the seed packet for this “Cat Grass,” avena sativa, indicates sprouting in 5-10 days, and the plant is “ready” in 10-15 days. Not instant gratification but results come pretty quickly.
This is what we plant the seeds in. There are several options available, but I usually pick up a bag of “Seedling Mix” from various suppliers. Seeds already come with the energy and nutrition they need to sprout, so they really just need a friendly place to grow.
Pick one that drains water so the seeds don’t get water logged and rot. I’ve used trays marketed for seeding, yogurt cups with holes poked in the bottom and small terra cotta pots. I like repurposing plastic berry containers because they already have drainage holes (a coffee filter placed in the bottom will allow water through but hold in the growing medium) AND the lids act as little greenhouses to help with humidity in the air around the seeds. Once the seeds sprout, just open the container up so the seedlings have room to grow.
A great way to start the seeds off with water is to place some growing medium in a bowl and have your child stir with a large spoon while one of you adds water, a little at a time, until the soil clumps but isn’t soggy. Then, add the moistened soil to the container, ready to plant the seeds. Once the seeds are in, a spray bottle or mister (as basic or fancy as you wish, the plants don’t care!) makes for a fun activity each day for kids to keep the seeds from drying out as they are germinating.
A planting “tool” like a spoon or scoop helps, though some kids like to just use their hands and that’s perfectly ok.
(Caregivers may want to protect activity surfaces - seed planting can get messy!)
1. Using a tray underneath, fill the container part way with growing medium, such as Seedling Mix.
2. Look at the seed packet for planting depth and spacing. In this example, seeds should be broadcast (scattered) on the surface and gently pressed into the growing medium. These seeds can sprout right on top, but if seeds are to be planted at 1/4 inch, you’d scatter another 1/4 inch of growing medium on top of the seeds.
3. Spray the top of the growing medium and seeds to help settle and hydrate.
4. Find a bright spot to place your planted container, keep the growing medium from drying out, and watch for your sprouts to appear!
I tried these seeds both in a shallow container, from which I will move seedlings to a larger container once they are about 2” high per the packet instructions, and also in a small terra cotta pot that can hold bigger seedlings. You can do your own “experiment’ with your child to see what happens to seeds planted in different containers.
Within 2 weeks, the seeding project becomes another activity:
Using age-appropriate scissors, a child can “harvest” their crop - in this case cat grass that will continue to grow. They may also like giving the plant a “haircut” and using the trimmings in imaginative play or art projects.
Plants can be grown to stay inside. Others can be gradually moved to an outdoor pot or
garden when the warm weather is here. The first amazing step is watching the transformation of seeds into tiny seedling plants.
Here are some other plants with shorter seed germination times:
Have fun together seeing the plants that can grow from those tiny seeds!
Looking for some reading to learn more about plant seeds?
Check out these books available through Dakota County Library
Seeds Go, Seeds Grow by Mark Weakland.
"Simple text and photographs explain the basic science behind seeds” (Dakota County Library)
A seed is the start by Melissa Stewart.
“Beautiful photography and lyrical text pair with comprehensive picture captions in award-winning author Melissa Stewart’s story about the surprisingly diverse world of seeds. Learn all about the plant cycle, from how seeds grow, the fascinating ways they travel, and what it takes for a seed to become a plant.” (Dakota County Library)
A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston ; illustrated by Sylvia Long. “This book offers children a beautiful and informative look at the intricate, complex, and often surprising world of seeds. An informative introduction to seeds.” (Dakota County Library)
Photo credits: Sarah Heidtke (1, 2, 3, 4, ), Book jackets (5, 6, 7)