The guide to seed starting with kids

The seed starting guide with kids came to life after noticing that most teachers are intimidated by gardening. As a lead school garden volunteer for so many years, many teachers expressed their disappointment in not being able to go through with the gardening lesson. For some reason they think it involves a lot of materials and time, which, I understand, they don’t have.

If you are a teacher and want to do some gardening activities with your students, but you don’t know where to start, no worries, I got you covered. I am going to walk you through the steps from start to finish.

In this post, I am going to tackle seed starting in the classroom. I will state the common mistakes teachers make and how to fix them. Then, we will start seeds together step by step. After that, comes the care for the seedlings and what to do with them.

I will also provide you with a list of seeds that work great as teaching material.

The seed starting guide with kids.
This is our school garden. We prepared it for the spring, we had just finished harvesting broccoli and cabbage. You may notice on the left side, a line of white cups, belonging to third-grade class.

The six common mistakes when starting seeds in the classroom

There are many reasons why seeds fail to germinate or to grow into healthy plants. Repetitive failures are disappointing and the teacher may give up on the hands-on activities. Here is a list of the most common mistakes teachers fall into while trying to start seeds.

1- Using the wrong soil:

Seeds need special soil to be able to germinate. It is best to get a soil blend that’s specific for seed starting. Never use garden soil as it is too heavy and may contain insects or diseases that can harm the seeds.

2- No drainage

When planting anything in pots, make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom. If the water does not drain away, the soil will stay wet, and the seed will rot consequently.

3- Bad seeds

Always use fresh seeds to ensure high germination rate. The latter decreases year after year.

4- Wrong time

Seeds can germinate any time indoors. The problem occurs when the seedlings are transferred outside. If it is not the right season for the given plant to grow, it not going to survive.

5- Poor light

Although dormant and underground, seeds still need light to germinate. Using sunlight that comes through a window, most of the time is not enough. It is best to invest in a simple and affordable grow light.

Providing proper light is also crucial for the health and growth of the seedling. The first set of leaves starts photosynthesis as soon as they emerge.

6- Sporadic Watering

Regular watering is key to help the seed break dormancy and later keep the seedling alive. Water only when the soil is dry to the touch. There is no need to water every day.

Click to download your free guide

Starting seeds 101

Step 1: Gather the materials

Don’t panic as this equipment does not have to be fancy and expensive.

#1 The right containers

Seeds are small, using appropriate size container is important. It is best to use 4″ pots or less, this will allow the soil to have balanced moisture all over. The seed, once it germinates, won’t suffer looking for water prematurely.

#2 The right soil

Use a seed starting soil mix, never use garden or potting soil. The designated soil hold enough moisture and has the right texture that allows the seed to germinate and a grow.

#3 The right seed for the right time

This depends on how far you want this activity to go. Selecting the right seed is for those who want to see their seedling turn into a healthy plant and then produce. To make the right choice, look up your USDA hardiness zone first. Then check what is growing from seed at the time you are planning your activity.

Let’s say you live in zone 8b, which has mild winters, and you are planning to start seeds in November. You should look into cool-season crops. If you are planning a spring activity, look for warm-season crops. This way you will be able to go further with your seedling.

#5 Proper watering tool

Keeping the moisture level of the soil ensure germination. Set aside a water bottle with perforated cap (use a skewer to make the holes). Use it as a watering tool to prevent flooding the soil and risking losing the seeds, especially if they are small.

#6 A good light source

Now we got our pots, soil, water and chose the right seed, what’s next?

Next is light, contrary to the common thought, seeds do need a certain light wave to germinate. In most cases, a well-lit window is a go-to choice. But using a grow-light is better to prevent legginess of the seedlings.

Commercial grow-lights came a long way and there is one for every budget. If your students are high elementary, you can build one with PVC pipes.

The seed starting guide with kids.

How to start seeds with kids

#1 Gather all the materials

  • The day prior to the activity, prepare all the materials. The containers should be clean and have holes.
  • Moisten the soil and put in a container that’s easy for the kids to reach to scoop some soil.
  • Decide on the seeds you are going to use.
  • Prepare a bottle filled with water, for watering.
  • Marker and labeling sticks.

#2 Set up the potting station

Decide if you are doing the activity inside the classroom or outside. You should be prepared for any accidents and messes to clean up.

you might choose to cover the table with a plastic cloth that could be thrown away at the end.

Place the container of soil at arm’s reach of the kids, otherwise, you will have to pass along between them.

#2 The procedure

  1. Hand each child a container, and let them notice the holes at the bottom and explain their purpose.
  2. Ask them to fill the container with the soil all the way. Pack it in firmly but not dense.
  3. Use a pencil tip to insert three holes on the surface of the soil. Push in the tip no deeper than the pencil head, unless the seed is big.
  4. Hand the kids three seeds and ask them to put one in each hole. Then gently cover the hole back with soil.
  5. Put the pots in trays and water them.
  6. Place the tray under the grow light or on the windowsill.
  7. Remember to turn off the grow-light when you leave the class at the end of the day. Turn it back on in the morning.
  8. Don’t forget to label the pots.
the seed starting guide with kids.
This seed tray is under homemade grow light. It is made out of PVC pipes and one shop light.

You may learn more about seed starting in this other post. It has a detailed explanation of the procedure. Click here

Further seedlings care

If you got enough from the activity and you think you reached your goal, you may stop here.

If you are an ambitious teacher and are enjoying this journey so far, the following steps are for you.

Potting up

When the roots start showing up from the drainage holes, it is time to pot up the baby plants.

When your feet don’t fit in your shoes, it’s time to get bigger shoes.

Moving the plants to a size bigger pot will provide room for the root system to expand. This will result in healthier and stronger plants.

To remove the seedling from its original pot, hold the pot upside down onto the palm of your hand. Tap gently, with the other hand, on the base to release the root ball into your hand.

Place the plant in the new pot, that is is filled a third way through with potting soil. Backfill the pot with soil pressing slightly to get the air pockets out, then water thoroughly.

seed starting with kids

Feeding

At this stage, the plants need extra food to thrive. The energy they get from photosynthesis is not enough. You may use a commercial starter fertilizer or plain leftover coffee or tea, which I am sure you got plenty of. Fertilize once a week at the scheduled watering time.

Mix the fertilizer as directed on the label with water. Water the plants thoroughly. Make sure to empty the drainage tray to prevent fungal disease.

Inspecting

This means to thoroughly observe the plants, and look for any abnormal things. It may be any foliar discoloration, insect damage, or wilting. Identifying problems early will save a lot of hassle later.

What’s next?

If you made it here, congratulations you came a long way. In our school the kids get so excited watching their plants grow. Most of the time we have more than what we need for our school garden. Every year we try to come up with ideas to make use of the extra plants.

Here are some ideas we have been applying:

Plant out in the school garden: This is very interesting to the kids. They get to watch their plants grow even further and harvest the vegetable of their hard work.

Take home: Give away plants to kids and teachers to take home. This sparks curiosity within parents, so they start asking questions. We had quite a few families start their home garden as a result.

Organize a plant sale: When we started this one, it was fascinating and brought a lot of attention to our school garden. Start by making flyers to distribute among school parents. Advertise it as being the result of their kids’ precious little handwork. The money raised could go to a school garden project or to get more materials for the classroom.

The seed starting guide with kids.
Many of these transplants were from the school. The prek 4 kids started their tomato and pepper plants. I had brought them home, prepare them for the class annual plant sale.

How to plant the seedlings out in the garden?

If you decided to plant you transplants in the school garden you need to harden them off.

What is hardening off?

Hardening off is another word for getting acclimated. Your transplants have been taken care of inside the classroom since they saw light. It will be difficult for them to get used to the natural elements outside.

The need some time to get used to the harsh sun, wind and everything else. If they are properly prepared they may get transplant shock. This will make them vulnerable and unable to survive.

In order to prepare the young plants to the new environment we should harden them off by following these steps.

  1. Put the plants outside for one hour in a shady place.
  2. Increase the number of hours gradually through the week. The next day, leave the plants for two hours, then three, and so on.
  3. On the seventh day or so, leave them overnight. Make sure no animals will get to them, especially bunnies.
  4. Once the plants are acclimated, they are ready for planting in the garden.

The best seeds to start with kids

Depending on the purpose of the lesson there is a seeds for every need.

Seeds that germinate in less than a week

  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Cucumber
  • Basil
  • Broccoli
  • Lettuce
  • Pumpkin
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini

Seeds that are great for anatomy observation

  • Beans
  • Broad beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Corn
  • Pumpkin
  • Zucchini

The best flower seeds to start wit kids

  • Calendula
  • Marigold
  • Bachelors button
  • Larkspur
  • Zinnias
  • Sunflowers
  • Sweet peas
  • bulbs
seed starting with kids

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