Science ideas for young children: Harvesting and eating tomatoes

Why do tomatoes look and taste the way they do?

Do you grow tomatoes at home? Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable grown in home gardens, although when they are coming on strong, we might be wishing for the time they would stop. However, there are many things we can learn from tomatoes.

Here are some experiments to ask and questions when dealing with tomatoes:

  1. Do bigger tomatoes have bigger seeds, or do they have more seeds? Make a prediction, then test it.
  2. Do certain plants in the garden have more or bigger tomatoes than other plants? Why do you think that is? Is it sunlight? Soil? What do you want to try when planting your garden next year to get more or bigger tomatoes?
  3. Do any of the tomatoes have black spots on the bottom? What is that from? Is there anything you can do to stop it?
  4. What makes a tomato ripen? Is it warmth, sunlight or something else? How could you test your ideas? Will a green tomato continue to ripen after it is picked from the vine? Does it matter if you leave the stem on or off? Try putting different tomatoes of about the same size in a windowsill, a closed paper bag and the refrigerator. Notice which ones ripen and which do not and try to explain why.
  5. Notice the fuzzy stems on the tomato plant. Why are there hairs on the stem? Might it protect from insects or help absorb sunlight? If you removed the hairs from the stem, would the plant die?
  6. Are all tomatoes equally acidic? Taste different varieties of tomatoes and try to predict which are more acidic. Use pH paper to test your predictions.
  7. Do all tomatoes rot at the same rate? Predict which tomatoes will decompose the quickest. Place several tomatoes outside and observe them daily. Take notes on how quickly they decompose and if any insects or other critters visit them. Try with both the stem on and off. Are there any sets of circumstances where they would dry instead of rot?
  8. If you have wet, juicy, soft tomatoes, you can do “splat” experiments. Predict how big of a splat tomatoes will make when dropped from different heights. Drop them from a ladder onto a shower curtain or old bed sheet, then measure the size of the “splat circle.”
  9. What happens to a tomato after it is sliced? What will happen if you put salt on a sliced tomato? What about sugar or pepper? Experiment and find out.

Enjoy the fruits of your garden – not just culinary, but scientifically as well – by doing some fun experiments and asking questions. Michigan State University Extension encourages families, daycares, school activities, 4-H clubs or any group working with young children to conduct these experiments. The focus of these lessons aren’t to simply impart knowledge, but to facilitate the joy of discovery and the exploration of the world around us. This is not designed to “give youth the answers,” but to empower them to ask questions and figure things out on their own. When a young person asks a question, resist the urge to answer it, and instead ask, “What do you think?”

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