Among the science lessons, our kids have to learn in school is “how do plants grow.” one part of that lesson is to start seeds and try growing them in the garden. The problem is that many teachers get frustrated when their experiment does not go well. Either the seeds do not come up or the seedling does not live long enough.
In this post, we will talk about starting seeds in the classroom. We will first identify the common mistakes made by teachers and provide solutions. Then, we will plant seeds and learn how to care for them.
The six common mistakes when starting seeds in the classroom
Repetitive failures can be discouraging to the teacher and kids. Yet, we need to highlight the reasons that may cause seeds not to germinate or seedlings to wither away. Here is a list of the most common mistakes observed in the classroom.
1- Using the wrong soil:
Seeds are delicate and need a particular soil to germinate. Garden or potting soils are too heavy and hold too much moisture, causing them to rot. For best results, use a seed-starting mix.
2- No drainage
When planting anything in pots, make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom. If the excess water does not find a way to escape, the soil will remain wet, and again the seed will rot.
3- Bad seeds
Always use fresh seeds to ensure a high germination rate. Every year, the seeds lose a percentage of their life. Some seeds do not make it beyond their first year.
4- Wrong timing
Most seeds can germinate indoors at any given time. The problem occurs when at the seedling stage. If it is not the right season for the given plant to grow, it won’t survive.
5- Poor light
Very few seeds need complete darkness to germinate. Although underground, the soil allows certain waves of light to seep through. These waves play a role in breaking the seed’s dormancy.
It is common to use a window sill to provide light for the seeds. Unfortunately, the light provided by the window is not strong enough.
Investing in a small grow-light is very rewarding. It increases germination chances and promotes healthy growth for the seedling.
6- Sporadic Watering
Maintaining even soil moisture is key to seed germination. It is also crucial to keep the little seedling healthy and alive. Water only if the soil feels dry to the touch.
7- Read the seed packet
The seed packet is the ID card of the plant. It is important to read it carefully beforehand. The first thing to look for is the right time to start the seed. The second is the days to germination. Some seeds take four days to germinate, and others take up to two months.
Starting seeds 101
Step 1: Gather the materials
Seeds come in different sizes, and using the right size container is important. In general, a yogurt pot is good for starting seeds of any size. The difference will be in the number of seeds to put in.
Use a seed-starting mix. It holds enough moisture and has the right texture to allow the seed to germinate.
#3 The right seed for the right time
Choosing the seed depends on how far you want this activity to go. If the goal is to show the germination process, any seed will do. If it is to teach the plant’s life cycle, seed selection is then important.
Look up your USDA hardiness zone and check what is growing from seed at the time of the class activity.
Let’s say you live in central Texas, which has mild winters, and you are planning to start seeds in November. Your zone is 8b, and the calendar shows that you can start spinach, greens, radishes, and lettuce.
#5 Watering tool
Keeping the moisture level of the soil ensures germination. Set aside a water bottle with a perforated cap (use a skewer to make the holes). Use it as a watering tool to provide a soft stream of water to prevent dislodging small seeds.
#6 A good light source
In most cases, a well-lit window is a go-to choice. Using a grow-light is better because it prevents the stretching of the seedlings’ stem.
Commercial growlights came a long way. There is one for every budget and setting. For smaller grades, you can use a small grow lamp. Older students can make one out of PVC pipes and shop lights.
How to start seeds with kids
#1 Gather all the materials
- The day before the activity, prepare all the materials. The containers should be clean and have holes.
- Moisten the soil and put it in a container that’s easy for the kids to scoop soil from.
- 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
This is a great outdoor activity, but if it is indoors, be prepared for any messy accidents that may occur.
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 the kids’ arm’s reach or pass it along.
#2 The procedure
- Hand each child a container and let them notice the holes at the bottom and explain their purpose
- Help them fill the container with soil all the way and pat it down gently.
- Use a pencil tip to indent three holes on the surface of the soil. The holes should be no deeper than the pencil head unless the seed is big.
- Hand each kid three seeds and ask them to place them in the holes.
- Cover the hole back with soil.
- Label the pots.
- Put the pots in trays and water them.
- Place the tray under the grow light or on the windowsill.
- 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.
You may learn more about seed starting in this other post. It has a detailed explanation of the procedure. Click here
Further seedlings care
Once the seeds germinate, the plant will start growing fast. When the roots start peeking from the drainage holes, it is time to pot them up.
Transplanting the seedling into a bigger pot provides more room for it to get bigger.
To remove the seedling, hold the pot upside down onto the palm of your hand. Tap gently onto the base to release the root ball into your hand.
Fill up the space with more soil pressing it down to remove any air pockets.
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. Fertilize once a week, following the directions on the label.
Observe the young plants for any discoloration, insect damage, or wilting. Early identification of the problem is half the solution.
When the plants reach three inches long, it is time to harden them off. It is the process of getting them acclimated to the natural elements. The easiest way to do it in the classroom is by taking them out with you at recess. You will be doing it for about a week.
Here are some ideas:
Plant out in the school garden: This is very interesting to the kids. They get to watch their plants grow even further and get to harvest.
Take home: Give away plants to kids and teachers to take home.
Organize a plant sale: When we started this one, it was fascinating and brought a lot of attention to our school garden. The money raised could go to a school garden project or to get more materials for the classroom.
The best seeds to start with kids
Depending on the purpose of the lesson there is a seed for every need.
Seeds that germinate in less than a week
Seeds that are great for anatomy observation
- Broad beans
The best flower seeds to start with kids
- Bachelors button
- Sweet peas