Botany

How to Teach Children about Plants



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Originally marketed as "The first kitchen garden appliance", The Aerogarden is not really thought of as a learning tool. I think of it as a mini garden lab. You will be growing plants from seed in a very controlled environment. The sun (lights) will come on and turn off at the same time each day. Your plants will need nothing except for electricity, water and a nutrient tablet to thrive.

At first, it may seem sort of clinical to plant a garden this way; simply snap in the seed pods, add water and a tablet, place a little dome over the pods and plug in. A garden can be up in running out of the box in as little as 10 minutes.But before you know it, the spark of life will touch your garden, the little seedlings will spring forth and you will soon be wondering how you became so attached to a plant.

The lack of mess, ease of use, fast growth, and, most importantly, the ability to garden on a tabletop make this an ideal way to kick start a child's interest in botany.

Things do happen fast in the Aerogarden. You will never have to worry that children will grow bored or impatient. Because there is no dirt in the way, you can see the first signs of life much sooner than with traditional gardening. Salad greens and basil are the fastest to germinate, usually showing signs of growth in about a day. They will grow rapidly after that, shooting towards the "sun." Soon, you will even begin to see the lovely white roots poking through the sponge, gradually becoming a complex network hanging like a tapestry into the reservoir of water below.

Most plants will first develop a set of cotyledons or false leaves that look remarkably similar no matter what type of plant you are growing. These were present in the seed before it germinated, swelled and broke away, revealing this first set of leaves. The herb garden is great for this reason; it is remarkable how similar things look in the beginning. These leaves soak in the light, giving the plant the energy it needs to grow into basil, sage or thyme. It is fascinating to witness the evolution that occurs as they race to the light and unfurl their diverse and heavily scented leaves.

For teaching children all about plants, the cherry tomato garden has a lot to offer. Your seedlings will begin producing blossoms at around 5 weeks. This gives you the opportunity to teach pollination. Let the children "be the bee", using an electric toothbrush to gently buzz the stem of each flower. You will see a bit of pollen fly around if they are doing it right. You can also leave some areas unpollinated to demonstrate the importance of forces like wind and insects in nature. If you are successful, within a day or so the petals will drop. Soon, you will see that is the fertilized ovary of the tomato flower that is the baby tomato. The nature of the Aerogarden is so great for this because it allows you to get really involved in the whole experience. Within a few weeks, you will be picking the fruits, cutting them open and showing your students the new seeds inside, waiting to start the whole process again.

I hope that through the use of The Aerogarden, children might discover a lifelong love of science and nature. The Aerogarden has the potential to bring this to children everywhere. Even in the harshest climates, the middle of the biggest city, or right on mom's countertop, you can teach a child the love of gardening and the beauty of science.

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