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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Saturday, April 4, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Day 49° Partly Cloudy

Plant learning seeds while school is out: Growing flowers, herbs or vegetables offers educational opportunities

UPDATED: Fri., March 20, 2020

The task of taking care of our children – without children’s museums, library story hours, trampoline parks, pools, the list goes on – might seem daunting. Proactively making a plan can be half the battle, and even if you don’t stick to it completely, the bits and pieces you do use can help everyone get by.

Picking a theme and centering crafts and lessons around it can give kids something to get excited about while also providing the parent with a sense of focus in the chaos. Plants suit this time of year, and there are myriad possibilities for activities.

Plants provide the perfect start and an object of curiosity for the weeks to follow. On day one, head down to Ace – they’re still open. Of course, be careful to social distance in the store. In the gardening section, they have the peat pods for seed starting, as well as a variety of seeds. Alternatively, you can buy soil and use egg cartons, yogurt containers or even newspaper to create pots.

While flowers are pretty, herbs, tomatoes and peppers provide the opportunity for a linked activity: Open up a cookbook (or cue a search browser), and search for yummy recipes you and your children can cook together once you have your harvest. Hint: If your child loves ranch dressing, dill can be an inspired choice. Cilantro for taco night also is great and an easy grower to boot.

Start a notebook for their starter garden. In a grid-like fashion, detail which pod has which type of seed. In case it gets shifted around, it can help to use the kids’ stickers on the outside of the container to mark which row is which (and let’s face it, kids love stickers). Mark the day you planted in your notebook, put your plants in a sunny spot, and prepare for the waiting game. Even you might find there’s something hopeful about watching new life thrive in our current environment.

Kids can be “Are we there yet?” impatient unless you shift their focus, but why not prepare for the future? Eventually those plants will outgrow their peat pod homes, and children are nesters just like the rest of us. Why not paint the outside of pots that will be the eventual new homes of your herbs? Kids can even prop up the seed packet and attempt to paint a likeness of the plant.

You’re not just teaching your children about plants, you’re teaching them about nurturing. Learning to care for other people and things is worthy of fostering.

Even though hunkering down is important, so long as proper distance is maintained, taking walks outside with your children can be restorative, and it is remarkably easy to integrate what you’re learning inside with what they’re seeing outside. Outside in and inside out, their world – which has shrunk without their permission – will widen a bit.

Even though many parents are trying to keep screens away from their kids, technology can be used for good. Download the free “iNaturalist” app and head out. Ask them what they think a plant is, and then use the app to take a picture of it. The app will make specific suggestions about what the plant could be and provides information about that plant. It also stores all of the plants you found and where you found them, so you can start noticing what is or isn’t common over time.

It’s an even nerdier Pokemon Go, and once the kids get into it, they get into it.

Back inside, over the days and weeks to come, a tiny bit of green will soon be poking out of the dirt. Whip out the gardening notebook. Your little scientists need to make a new entry noting the date they first saw their sprout. As they monitor their plants, they should take out a ruler and track the growth and note the number of leaves. You can teach kids measurement and addition without them ever realizing you’re teaching.

If you’re feeling extra ambitious, help them make a growth chart for one of the plants. They can form hypotheses about what will happen if their pods receive direct or indirect sunlight. Are the leaves leaning a certain way? Would the basil perhaps do better if we rotated the container?

April 24 might seem impossibly far right now, but a future could exist where you look up at your windowsill and you notice that little pot your child painted containing thriving basil.

And you could think, “Maybe pasta tonight, now where’s that recipe?”

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