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Looking for creative yet educational ways to reduce your family's screen time this summer? Try any or all of these hands-on activities to teach kids about the many benefits of plants. They will get outside, learn a little, have fun – and maybe even get a little dirty in the process.

Plant Some Seeds

Most of us remember plopping a seed into a cup filled with dirt in science class or for a Scouting project and eagerly checking on it every day to see whether it sprouted. Some of us were excited when the first bit of green poked through the dirt, while others were undeniably disappointed when, after weeks of persistence, nothing appeared. This activity teaches children of all ages about the life cycle of a plant, responsibility and even a bit about patience.

You will need:

  • An empty 6 to 10-ounce plastic recycled container
  • Seed starting soil (or sterile potting soil)
  • A packet of seeds (marigolds and green beans are easy to grow)
  • Water

How to do it:

  1. Fill the empty plastic container about ¾ full of potting soil.
  2. Water soil lightly to dampen.
  3. Place one or two seeds on top of the soil and poke down gently about half an inch and loosely cover seed with soil.
  4. Add a little more water to moisten but avoid standing water.
  5. Place the container in a warm location to encourage sprouting.
  6. Check daily and water only when soil is dry.
  7. Move to a sunny location when you see green sprouts.
  8. When the plant is strong enough it can be transplanted outdoors.

(If you already have a garden space outdoors, you can let children plant the seeds directly in the dirt. Follow instructions on the seed packet and watch for growth!)

Planting a seed and watching it sprout teaches kids how we get new plants from old ones and demonstrates that we need to save the seeds from one vegetable plant in order to grow another crop of food.

Putting the child in charge of watering the seeds and nurturing the growth and development of the plants teaches them responsibility and how to care for the natural world around us. If a plant dies it becomes a lesson in the importance of maintaining a healthy plant food chain.

Related careers for older children to learn more about include:

  • Farming and Agriculture
  • Horticulture
  • Plant Geneticist
  • Soil Scientist

Learn the Importance of Shade

Show kids the importance of trees and other plants that provide shade. This is most effective on a warm, sunny day.

What to do:

  1. Go to a spot where a tree casts deep shade where you can walk or sit.
  2. First stand in the sun and notice how hot you feel with the direct sunlight shining on you.
  3. Then step into the shade and describe the difference you feel.

This practical lesson demonstrates how plants help cool the environment naturally and save resources. You can explain:

  • Growing plants on the roofs and sides of buildings can keep the building cooler and reduce the use of air conditioners which saves money and natural resources.
  • Growing shade plants at the right places around your yard helps keep your house cooler in the summer in the same way.
  • Growing plants in the city can help cool the hot air radiating from the concrete and asphalt surfaces.

Related careers for older kids interested in working with trees and landscaping include:

  • Arborist
  • Logging Crew Member
  • Forestry Technician or Scientist
  • Irrigation Engineer
  • Landscaper and Groundskeeper

Visit a Garden Center or Plant Nursery

Many garden centers and plant nurseries offer educational classes or tours, and some have staff members who can answer your children's gardening questions.

Before your visit, you and your youngsters should sit down together and decide what types of plants you want. You need to consider the growing conditions on your property. Some of things to keep in mind when choosing the right plants include:

  • Is the area sunny, shady or little of both?
  • Is the soil rocky, sandy, clay, or nice and loose?
  • Is the area well-drained or can it get soggy?
  • How large or small is the area to be planted?
  • Do you want flowers that will come back again next year or just bloom for one season?

Being able to answer these questions will help you find the right plants for a successful garden. You will be able to tell the nursery staff what you want and describe your growing conditions so they can suggest the best plants for you.

Involving the children in the decisions will get them thinking about what they would like to have in the garden. And they will learn lessons now that will pay off in the future if they continue to garden for pleasure or turn it into a career.

Related nursery careers include:

  • Florist or Floral Designer
  • Nursery Manager
  • Landscaper
  • Horticulturalist
  • Propagation Scientist

Teaching kids about the benefits of plants can be fun for the entire family. What better way to spend a summer day than getting outside, digging in the dirt, and enjoying nature? Maybe it will even "plant the seed" for a career as a landscape professional in the future!

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