Winter gardening activities for children

Children learn gardening principles through winter gardening activities.

Winter is at its height. The nights are long and the days are short. According to Michigan State University Extension, the time you and your children can spend outside is limited and we all, young and old, long for spring and summer to come. Why not bring some spring indoors with simple winter gardening activities you can do with your children? Winter gardening activities are not only fun to do, but they also introduce children to basic plant science concepts and can spark an interest in youth to become a gardener for life. Below are a few resources and activities that you can do with your own children, or with any small group of children and youth.

Starting plants indoors is one easy and inexpensive activity that can be done with plant parts that you usually would throw away. These plant parts can potentially make beautiful house plants.  In an article, Kids’ Winter Gardening Activities by horticulture educator Martha A. Smith of Univerisity of Illinois Extension she explains, “Garbage gardening is a great way to show kids that many of the things we throw away have value.”

Avocado pits and orange, lemon or mandarine seeds can easily be started indoors. Rootcrops, such as beets, carrots and turnips, have leafy tops. Cut about one inch off the top of the vegetable and plant it into moist sand with only the top part exposed. Keep the soil moist and small leaves will start appearing in about 10 days. Talk to the children about the plants. Which part of each plant do they eat? Do the veggies taste the same or do the flavors vary? Have children experiment and put the starter plants into various locations in the house – some with more light exposure and some with less light exposure. Children could measure the size of each plant every few days and keep a log. Then have them compare the growth of the plants and discuss what differences in growth patterns the children notice. What could be the reason for the differences?

Cornell University Garden Based Learning suggests bringing spring inside by using the forced twig and/or forcing bulbs for indoor bloom lesson plans. Kids usually love getting their hands into soil to plant, watching the bulbs sprout and seeing buds develop. Having a plant clinic could be another way to both revive sad looking house plants and introduce children to plant science. Children can repot overgrown houseplants, plant plantlets of spider plants or pick off faded leaves on your plants. Older children could help younger children with this activity.

Don’t like the mess? Go virtual. The MSU Children’s Virtual Garden is an excellent resource to introduce children to gardening online in a safe, fun and educational environment. You can learn more about the website by reading another MSU Extension article, Fun and learning at the MSU 4-H Children’s Virtual Garden.

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