Sprouting in a Jar

I grew up with a mom who loved plants, and who always had small businesses that involved plants. In fact, I helped my mom build a greenhouse at three different properties she owned. Growing plants is one way that I feel connected to my mom and to my childhood roots.

1980’s Childhood with my two older brothers! ~Willow Grove, Delaware ~

So naturally, as a teacher and parent, I prioritize teaching children about their food and think it’s empowering for children to learn how to grow their own food.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to grow sprouts in jars. It takes very little time, space, or effort….and kids LOVE to watch the changes that occur from day to day. Children also are more likely to eat food that they’ve helped to grow!

“How to Grow Your Own Sprouts”

Read the package of your Sprouting Seeds for more specific guidelines, but there really are only a few steps.

Step 1 – Wash a couple mason jars, add 1-2 Tablespoons of seeds, fill with water and allow to sit over night (or about 8 hours). Drain and rinse, lie jar on its side.

Step 2 – Every morning and night, rinse the seeds, drain, shake to distribute them around the jar, and lie jar on its side. (Singing to the seeds is completely optional but my inner preschool teacher knows singing grows happier sprouts.)

Step 3 – In about five days your sprouts will be ready to eat. Just give them a final rinse and eat! I like to serve our fresh sprouts on a platter with raw veggies. This winter I have taken to making veggie art and posting it on Instagram….because I think we all need friendly reminders to ‘eat the rainbow’!

Stop on over to Instagram and follow Aprils_Teaching_Tree for your sprout/veggie man updates!

And…I’ve finally gotten over my fear of posting videos of myself. {Drum roll please…} Here is my first ever video explaining the process of sprouting. Click on the link for my YouTube tutorial and subscribe if you’d like updates when my weekly videos are published!

 

Seeds, seeds, seeds

As spring begins to arrive we start to think about sprouting seeds and begin dreaming of our gardens. There are countless different ways for us to explore, examine, investigate, germinate, and even feast on seeds. Here is just a sampling of the seed investigations that I have offered, throughout the year, in the preschool programs I have taught in.

Some of favorite seed investigations include:

Seed Exploration Bin – add a variety of seeds or dry beans for closer observation and exploration. Larger seeds such as sunflower, wheat, peas, corn, pumpkin, and beans are great for sensory bins. If you have a large collection of seeds, put them into a bin so kids can scoop, sort, and pour.

Seed Exploration Trays – If you have a small amount of seeds, use trays with bowls.Try saving seeds pods from nature to explore as a cost free alternative. I keep a metal cookie tin in my science center with a nice variety of seeds for children to explore.

“Ziploc Greenhouse & Bean Seeds” – soak beans overnight. Decorate their own greenhouse sheet. Child moistens a paper towel and folds & lays it in the bottom of their Ziploc baggie. Place 3-4 bean seeds onto the towel and partly close the bag. Tape bag to the greenhouse and hang in window. Observe the greenhouse each day and record on “My Observation Log” sheet. (Note: if your classroom windows are cold because of outdoor freezing temperatures, do not hang them in the window because the germination will slow or not sprout at all.) Free printable here: http://kindergartencrayons.blogspot.com/2013/04/growing-beans-like-jack-did-freebie-fun.html

 

Greenhouse – small collapsible ‘greenhouses’ can be purchased such as this one pictured on the right. This mini four shelf unit with a plastic zippered covering was sold at our local Ocean State Job Lots for only $20. This allowed me to grow a larger number of seeds so we could have seedlings both for our school garden and for children to take home seedlings!

Seed Trays Indoors – children delight in seeing multiple types of seeds sprouting next to each other in a tray. It is fun to do daily observations of the sprouts to compare growth, color, texture, and germination rates! If you have access to a grow light and warming seed mat the seeds will grow stronger, but even a sunny window is enough for our young scientists

Seed and Plant Matching – print the matching cards from http://www.montessoriprintshop.com/Free_Montessori_Downloads.html

Have small containers of the nine types of seeds. Display the seeds with the matching cards – Sunflower, Pumpkin, Sesame, Flax, Fennel, Cumin, Poppy, Pomegranate, and Mustard. Children love this matching game!

 

 “Our Seed Book” – this site has 4 different printable covers and detailed directions here http://www.prekinders.com/2012/04/make-a-seed-book/   This Ziploc bag book is made with empty seed packets and real seeds. It’s great to compare the sizes, colors, and shapes of seeds.

 

Examining Seeds – open several seed packets and compare the size, color, and shape of the seeds! Children are often surprised to find out that some seeds have a scent, which is easiest to detect with herb seeds.

Seed Sprouting Necklaces – moisten a cotton ball and put it inside a mini jeweler’s Ziploc bag. Add a seed and close the bag. Poke a hole in the top of the bag and add a yarn or hemp necklace. Make the length of the necklace so it fall where the child’s heart is ~ the warmth of their heart will help the sprout grow. After the roots and first leaves appear, transplant into a small pot and then later into the garden when it’s warm.

Surprise Garden –let children choose from 6-8 different types of seeds, they plant their own container. Let them sprout at school, then send home. Send a list of plants that might be included in the garden.

Sprouting in a Jar – a fun year-round activity is to grow sprouts in mason jars. Start them on Monday and by the end of the week the children can feast on a fresh batch of sprouts!

Finding the Seeds– bring in a variety of fresh fruits and veggies. Cut them open and have the kids help you find where the seeds are located. Scoop and spread out the seeds to dry. These can be planted (though some may not sprout) and others could be used in art projects.  Also try finding seeds in other foods we eat….such as delicious local bagels!

No sun. No soil. No Water. Experiment-take three Ziploc bags and write one sentence on each. One another bag add a small amount of dirt, some water, and three bean seeds. In each other the other bags add three bean seeds and do whatever the sentence says. (ex. the ‘no sun’ bag add the beans, dirt, and water but hide it in a shady place) Observe the bags for a couple of weeks and discuss the results.

Harvesting Seeds – look around outdoors for dry seed pods either from the garden or the wild garden in the forest. Lupine is one type of seeds that are easy for little hands to harvest and then can spread the native species seeds on the edges of the school yard!

Exotic Fruit – children develop their palette in early childhood…so why not bring in unusual and exotic fruits. Try to see how different seeds look in fruits from other parts of the world.

Seeds & Balance Scales- another way to explore seeds to weigh and compare them using balance scales

Grass Heads – this project helps children see how grass or wheat grows. First decorate small clear cups with wiggly eyes and construction paper glued on. (The clear cups let children see the roots, but small pots could also be used.) After the faces are dry, add a small amount of rocks in the bottom of the cup for drainage. Then add potting soil leaving ½ an inch from the top of the cup. Finally add the wheat seeds. Moisten the soil and mist once a day until it sprouts. Show kids how to give their ‘Grass Head’ a haircut.

So many engaging ways to explore seeds….all while dreaming of the days when the garden is in bloom again!

Books about Seeds:

A Fruit is a Suitcase for Seeds by J. Richards

A Seed is Sleepy by D. H. Aston

From Seed to Plant by Allan Fowler

From Seed to Pumpkin by W. Pfeffer

How a Seed Grows by H. Jordan

I’m a Seed by J. Marzollo (compares pumpkin to marigolds)

Just a Seed by W. Blaxland

Oh Say Can You Seed? All About Flowering Plants by B. Worth

One Little Seed by E. Greenstein

Seeds Like These by Paki Carter

Spring is Here! A Story About Seeds by Joan Holub

The Carrot Seed by R. Krauss

The Surprise Garden by Zoe Hall

The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle

We Plant a Seed (Troll First Start Science)

Communicating Food Education & Mealtime to Families

One of my core beliefs is that we need to integrate food education into our programs. If we are serving snacks and meals then we have a captive audience to talk about food! Now there are many things that I could say about my beliefs surround food education but today’s focus is some simple ways that we can communicate to families how we approach meal time. The way you approach mealtimes will likely change and I encourage you to keep thinking about your approach. I know my teaching practices shifted radically after I attended a week-long VT FEED training at my children’s school in 2011. There is no one-size-fits-all and therefore your approach might vary from mine, but this is how I frame meal time in my program. If you utilize the food program or work in a center be sure that your views match the guidelines in place. This blog post is written with the audience of families in mind, and I welcome you to ‘cut and paste’ & edit it for your own newsletters or print materials that you share with the families in your programs.

person holding black and brown food tray

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Research shows that a child needs up to 15 exposures before they will begin to like a new food, and if you are like me it’s hard to keep buying foods that I am not sure my child will eat. So here at Utopia Child Care we are working on becoming ‘adventurous eaters’, and each month we offer a wide variety of foods for your child to sample. It’s important to us that you child try new foods but at no time do we require any child to eat the foods we serve. Some of our approaches include:

  • We communicate to children the concepts “I don’t like it yet” and explain that as children get older they often begin to like more foods. Most young children want to be ‘big kids’ and sometimes this frame of mind helps them embrace the adventure.
  • We have a rule at meal time: “Don’t yuck my yum”. This simple phrase helps children learn to be respectful of other children’s food preferences and sets the tone that we can each like different foods.
  • We ask staff to avoid giving negative comments about particular foods or food groups.
  • Food is never used as a reward or as a punishment.
  • We will explore the “The Two Bite Club” and will be sending home a book for you to read with your child (see link below). This book is published by the USDA and explains MyPlate, food groups, and suggests that children try two bites of a new food.
  • We serve food family style which means that each child is able to serve themselves from dishes. This gives us the opportunity to explore making sure there is enough for every child, serving the amount that we think we will eat, and knowing that there is plenty for all of us. And yes, it does get messy, especially on spaghetti day, but it is an important motor skill to learn.
  • We teach about manners and how to use a napkin.
  • We also learn how to have an ongoing conversation with our friends at the table without talking over each other. There are no digital distractions during mealtime.
  • And best of all….we get to build community while we share a delicious meal.

 

Additional thoughts for providers ~~

Diversity and respect – as providers and educators it is essential that we honor the choices that a family makes about food. Families may have religious, ethical, medical, environmental, or spiritual reasons for choosing to eat they way they do at their home. Whether or not we are able to provide their needs is a conversation to have PRIOR to the child starting in a program. It is through open communication that parents can decide if what the program offers meets their needs.

Clean Plate Award – it’s engrained into our brains not to waste food, but more current research suggests that we teach children to listen to their bodies when they are full.

Garden- children who have access to picking fresh veggies from a garden (especially one they help plant and care for) will eat foods they have never tried. Their excitement about harvesting and connecting in the garden opens up their food palate like no other trick I know!

Compost- teach children where our trash, recycling, and compost go after we are done with a meal. Our food scraps, if composted, can be turned back into soil and the cycle begins again. Though the broccoli is still better off in your tummy then in the compost bin! J

“Outside Food” – the food struggle is real and parents will want to bring in food from the fast food joint they pass on the way to your program or extra snacks or special treats because it’s Tuesday. Picture the scenario from the parent’s point of view. They are running late and need to grab a cup of coffee before work, so they negotiate with their slow poke three year old that if they hurry up and get into the car they can have a treat. Been there, done that as a parent. The path of least resistance involves a munchkin from Dunkin or a breakfast sandwich from the drive through. If you do not want to allow ‘outside food’ into your program my suggestions is to have a clear written policy in your handbook that you consistently reinforce.

 “Two Bite Club” is an educational storybook published through the USDA. It is now available in English and in Spanish, was introduces “MyPlate” to young children. The cartoon characters model trying foods from every food group by eating just two bites, and there is a certificate at the back of the book for kids who take on the challenge as well. This book is now available as an eBook, can be downloaded as PDF, or ordered for FREE from this link https://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/two-bite-club-english-and-spanish

 

 

Don’t just take my word for it…for further reading:

“Creating the Nutritionally Purposeful Classroom” (2014) https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/ycyoungchildren.69.5.8.pdf?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

“Autonomy at mealtime: Building healthy food preference and eating behaviors in young children” from the Early Childhood Education Journal (1996) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02430547

Check out the amazing resources published by VT FEED – Vermont Food Education Every Day and its parent organizations Shelburne Farms and NOFA-VT  https://vtfeed.org/feed-resource-library

 

For the love of fiddle heads…

imageThere is something magical about fiddleheads. That first sprouting of life. Vibrant green and spiraling. My children love to forage for fiddle heads in the forest on our land. It’s a sure sign that spring really is happening…which is a long and patience testing process in northern Vermont.

This year’s harvest was gathered by my children and enjoyed at several meals this week. It’s wonderful to see my children’s delight in brining home something they’ve wild crafted on their own, and even more delightful to watch them devour a food that many would find “too earthy”.

The joy of feasting on natures bounty with my family fills my heart. ❤️