Last week on the Kodo Blog we discussed the idea of ‘where food comes from’ from a child’s perspective. When the family needs food, a trip to the supermarket is planned. It’s natural for a child to assume that that’s where apples and oranges are made! In response, we encouraged learning about seeds, farms, and other production methods so that children can begin to understand the large picture, fill the gaps in their knowledge, and broaden their their mindset beyond what is right in front of them.
Today, we’re offering some ideas for investigating this topic, starting with a sensory discovery of seeds, which will end in planting and growing the child’s very own food.
Occasionally we are approached about the conflicting idea of using seeds for “play” when there are many people who do not enjoy such easy access to fresh, healthy foods. The beauty of using seeds as a sensory activity for preschoolers is that it provides a new hands-on educational opportunity to teach them why we should respect the foods that are available to us, and why we shouldn’t take our food for granted. This not only helps them more accurately answer the question “where does food come from”, but also gives them a perspective to think about food and its availability, which in turn leads to compassionate children who understand why food is to be respected and shared.
For this investigation, you will need a variety of seed types. We recommend seeds that grow quickly and easily indoors, such as green beans, flaxseed, and oats.
Begin by allowing your students to explore and handle the seeds to become familiar with what they will be planting. Ideas for sensory investigations include:
- Engaging the senses is a key way to support children’s growing observational and research skills, two important cross-cutting STEM objectives. Pour seeds into a bucket, bin, or activity tray and let children use their hands and dive right in! Guide their investigation by asking question about how the seeds look, feel, and how they differ from each other. Record their findings, discoveries, and questions for further curriculum planning.
- Natural materials are perfectly suited to support mathematical concepts such as size, quantity, and shape, and also invite sorting and classifying. Use a sifting mechanism, such as our sift and sort, to allow children to examine seed size and separate them based on their dimensional similarities.
- Cause and effect relationships are rooted in kinesthetic learning when given materials to fill and pour. Fill a bucket or sensory table with the seeds and allow children to scoop them into funnels and watch them flow from the top of the funnel out the bottom and back into their tray. Use one of ourfunnel stands to elevate the play.
When your children are ready to move on from this sensory exploration, it’s time to help them plant their seeds. As long as you choose seeds that are relatively easy to grow, both toddlers and preschoolers should be free to plant the seeds in patterns of their choice, which makes for interesting results. To set them up for success, we suggest choosing high quality soil and encouraging students to sprinkle seeds on top, then layering a very light amount of soil on top of the seeds. Or extend the investigation by varying the amount of soil used to cover the seeds. (Over time help children record which seeds sprouted, those covered by a little soil, those deeply planted and so on.) If they want to draw something with their seeds, arrange them by color, by size, or just scatter them randomly, we say, GREAT! Experiment with different methods, changing only one variable at a time, and see if the plants grow differently, recording your process as you go for later reflection and analysis. The most important part of this exploration is providing the chance to see the seedlings grow into a familiar food, so the soil depth is relatively important, but it is more important to let learning emerge through investigation of materials and by experimenting with planting methods.
Over the next few weeks, you will get to watch your seeds sprout and grow into the plants and foods we are familiar with! The next time your children are asked where plants (specifically food) come from, they will very likely think about their experience and offer their own insights and answers about food production.
Tip - growing seeds takes time. To keep children interested in their investigation during these weeks, make sure to plan time daily to look at your plants as a group. Perhaps take photos, or read books about farms, or invite a local farmer in for a visit during this time. The beauty of using seeds as a sensory activity for preschoolers is that it opens a new hands-on educational opportunity to teach where our food comes from, how much time and work it takes to grow the foods we enjoy, and why we should respect the foods that are available to us.