Engaging particularly young children can be a challenge. They like instant results, which are difficult to achieve! However, we can but try. If you wish, send in a picture or two. I'll establish a gallery.
Teacher Mode Alert. My agenda would be to encourage questions; what do you think will happen, what do you notice happening, what did happen, what did you notice, what happens if you change something. If you're working with young children, do use the correct vocabulary. Children enjoy collecting words! Encourage drawing, diagrams and the conversation about what you're having. If you do tests, they must be 'fair' tests. Discuss that with your children. What are you testing? If it's conditions, the only difference should be location. If it's making them grow, the difference would be perhaps water/no water, feed/no feed, etc.You'll instinctively pitch it to their age and understanding. the idea is to establish good investigative practice, like are the seeds the same type? did they all go out at the same time? were they inspected at the same time? Use the word fair. Children understand that from very early on. Watch two children share one chocolate bar and you'll see what I mean!
Materials. Where possible, I've tried to suggest using things that you might find at home. Some supermarkets do stock basic things like seeds, seed trays and plastic propagators. I'm not, in this climate, going to encourage you to go out unnecessarily; please be responsible!
Growing bean shoots.
You need some mung beans or other similar beans for sprouting. It might be a challenge sourcing these, but you may know of somebody who is selling them. If so, let me know and I'll amend the page. A largish jar with a screw top lid. A large coffee jar will do. Put a handful of beans in the jar, pour in some water, put the lid on and shale the beans around. Drain the water off, put the jar in a dark place,and come back tomorrow. The shoots should start germinating in about 24 hours. eat them when ready.
One of the first things I remember doing, Again, food related! If you can get them, grow them on wet paper. There is a more interesting way. Draw a pattern on a piece of paper with a glue stick. Rub hard enough to leave an even trail. Shake the seeds over the paper, and make sure that they are lightly pressed into the glue. Mist the picture lightly with water, and don't let it dry out. Put it on a cool windowsill somewhere. The seeds will germinate within a couple of days. Get creative. Do a face and give it hair and a beard (unless it's your mum)
More beans in a jar.
Runner or French beans this time. Get a glass jar. Put two or three sheets of newspaper, depending on the size of the jar, together and fold them longways. Roll them round, and put them in the jar so that they make a reasonably tight fit. Push a runner or french bean seed down about half way. In about a week, you should see the root come, followed by the shoot. Watch it grow for a few days, then find a large flower pot - 20cm upwards really. put some compost, if you have it, or garden soil in it, and carefully transfer the bean to it. Be careful not to kink or bruise the stem or growth tip. Put the roots down so that the growth tip will be about 5cm above the compost. Firm it all in, and water. You should have a growing plant with a bit of luck. You can do this on a balcony, or even in a room. I did it in a classroom when we were doing work about jungles. It kinda worked.
Grow your own pot plant.
Well, sort of. Once, a Victorian 'gentleman' made a killing selling rare plants at a time when such things were fashionable. Imagine their surprise when it turned out to be a chunk of carrot in earth. Try it. Cut the top off of a carrot. put it in a saucer of water. Predict what's going to happen. Enjoy your temporary plant. Try it with other root vegetables. Compare the foliage.
Printing with vegetables.
Agreeably messy. You need paper, and a vegetable, water based paint and paper. Potatoes are good, as are any hard root vegetable. If you've spare cabbage leaves, they might work. Cut the potato ( carrot) in half, across its shortest side. You can either use the open end straight away, or cut a shape into the end. This involves using a sharpish knife. Older children could use a table knife, but in any case, keep the shape simple. As a general rule, if it is taking more than a couple of minutes, it's too long. Little tip here - if you've a sponge handy, use that to apply the paint. It limits the mess. Again, don't ask me how I found out.Print either patterns or random. Do a print rainbow. The possibilities are only limited by how long the potato lasts. Leaf prints are different. There may still be some sad looking specimens from last year, or use a cabbage leaf with prominent veins on it. Same technique - into the paint, onto the paper. Try wiping the leaf with the sponge. Olympic standard printers use a small printing roller, but really?
Where do plants grow best? Have a guess. Put some newspaper in a saucer. Wet it thoroughly and put some small seeds on it. Do several and put them in different places - in the light, dark, sunny windowsill. Keep a note of what happens over about ten days. Talk about things that you've noticed.
Outside (If you have access to a garden)
You might be able to do some of these on your daily walk, but I think it would be wise to limit such things; you understand what it's all about - your children may not. Use your phone to take closeups of patches of ground, and either a long shot or notes about the conditions of the patch (see below). let your children examine them at home. It just isn't worth the slightest question of risk. THE CROP CIRCLE Take a small hoop, if you have one, or some string to make a circle about 1 meter in diameter. Choose a spot and lay out you circle on a patch of ground. Notice the conditions - bright/ shady, wet/dry, etc. What's growing there? How many different types of plant are growing there? Take a photo. Do two or three places in different conditions. Are the plants the same? How many plants? Have the types changed? Which area seemed to be best? Why do you think that? What test could you do to try out your hypothesis? (large word alert) INSECT WATCH Are there any insects in the hoop? Can you identify them? Take a close up photo if you can. How many different types did you find? Be patient - insects move around, and you may have to give it a minute to let one happen by. THE SUNFLOWER CHALLENGE Everybody has a go here. Sow some sunflower seeds. Either plant them out, or in a large container. be prepared to give them some support if they need it, but they shouldn't, in theory. Who can grow the tallest is the obvious challenge, but what about the biggest flower? (I know that the head is a bunch of flowers, one for each seed, but really??)
WHO AM I? Can you identify any of the plants? What can you find out about them? (limit that to a finite number, like 3 or 4!) Do the same for insects. Are they beneficial or pests? PAINT ME! Kew gardens, amongst other establishments, have artists on call to come and do botanical paintings of flowers in bloom, and plants. Artists will pick out detail that the camera won't necessarily home in on. Get your child to do observational painting of plants. Start with colour matching. Use a pencil to go for a walk on a piece of paper, drawing lots of loops. Do an abstract picture using the colours that you've found. Depending on the child, do close observational drawing/ painting of a flower or leaf. Note the symmetry involved in both. Age is no indicator of skill. Once engaged, any child will work intently - though the length of time is definitely age related! COLOUR ME! Take a flower with a long stem. Find two small containers (Yogurt pots will do), and some food dye. Red or blue, but any will do. Carefully split the stem lengthways without breaking it. Put water in the pots, and coloured dye in one of them. Come back tomorrow. (What should happen, is that the dye will colour part of the flower. Try multiple colours, and send me a picture.)
PATTERNS In a large pot (indoors) or a small patch of earth (Outdoors unless you're living in a tent) Draw a pattern of fairly large shapes. Sow different seeds in each segment, or a pattern of your own choice, and watchthem grow. take a picture and send it to me.
GALLERY type 'Flowers' into google. From the millions, choose 6 different types that you really like. Find out four important things about the plant. Copy and paste the picture into Word, or similar program. Send me the file, and I'll share it here.