As a teacher, I cannot stress enough the importance of early education. Think of it like this. Helping your child develop their early learning skills is like investing in a very reliable stock. Invest now and you can expect a guaranteed return year after year. There has been a great deal of research that has found that a child’s brain is most susceptible to learning from birth to age three. Furthermore, the first five years of a child’s life lay the foundation for their success in learning for the rest of their lives.
Learning at this young age takes many forms. Watching my daughter grow from babyhood to toddlerhood has left me in awe of all that she has learned. And the rate of learning! Wow! I have been an elementary teacher for fourteen years and yet, watching a baby learn and grow is like none other.
Young children are learning all the time. While they are learning about their basic needs and their environment, they are also developing their social and emotional intelligence. Oh, and those vocabularies! We go from trying everything to get our babies to utter their first word to not being able to get a word in edgewise with our toddlers!
While learning during these early years are so important, it should also be fun. First of all, you are going to be hard pressed to capture your toddler’s attention if the learning is not fun. Secondly, these moments of teaching your toddler new and interesting things should be enjoyable for you, too!
How to Do Preschool at Home with Your Toddler (Plants Theme)
Last month, I described how to set up your home to make it conducive for learning for both you and your toddler. Organization is key. Just like a classroom, learning runs more smoothly when you are organized. I use plastic bins with labels for my larger supplies. For my daily activities, I use a milk crate with file folders. I like keeping the activities separated by day and the milk crate allows me to keep the lessons portable.
I am really enjoying pulling from The Learning Box Preschool program because they already have their activities organized by day. Their monthly learning boxes can be ordered in a 3-day or 5-day lessons per week program. This program is pricey, but it is such a life saver as a busy work-at-home mom. I like to take their suggested activities and use them as a springboard for my own ideas. For this planting theme, I am taking a few of their activities mixed with a few of my elementary classroom ideas scaffolded down for these itty bitty learners.
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Preschool at Home: Planting Seeds of Early Literacy
Books are always the perfect way to start any unit. For toddlers, books are especially important because they help build the context that they lack from life experiences. Whenever you have the real life item, use it. However, when I have done units on the Amazon Rain Forest or the African Savannah, I have relied on books to build background knowledge instead.
The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle
It should be no surprise that I am recommending yet another book by Eric Carle. The Tiny Seed describes the life cycle of a plant through the eyes of a tiny seed, so to speak. It details how seeds travel and get nestled in the Earth before growing into a plant or flower.
I used this book during my yearly planting unit with my second graders and much of the vocabulary is geared towards a first or second grader. However, preschoolers will love Eric Carle’s colorful illustrations, as always. If you talk through the book, using the illustrations, it is a great way for your toddler to understand the life cycle of a plant.
You can grab some tissue paper, construction paper, and glue and ask your preschooler to recreate Carle’s illustrations themselves. Then, ask your toddler to use these illustrations to retell the life cycle of a plant from seed to plant.
Oh, Say Can You Seed? By Dr. Seuss
Dr. Seuss is, of course, another favorite author of preschoolers. In this lesser known tale, Oh Say Can You Seed?, the Cat in the Hat explains everything kids need to know about seeds, plants, and flowers. This time the Cat in the Hat is not up to mischief so much as he is up to gardening!
It is Dr. Seuss, so of course, there is plenty of rhyming. Rhyming is great for building phonological awareness in your toddler. However, in this book, there is also a lot of higher level vocabulary like “pollinate” and “photosynthesis”. Don’t be afraid that these words are too big for your little one. Use the correct vocabulary, but explain each word using pictures and kid-friendly explanations. Don’t worry, the cat will help you.
Related Article: For the Love of Words (The Importance of Vocabulary) on Scholastic
From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons
From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons is literally full of information that could last your and your child for years. Gibbons describes how seeds are formed, how they travel, and how they grow into plants. There are several great diagrams of both seeds and flowers. She even includes a section on how to plant a seed along with good gardening tips.
Again, this book is full of rich vocabulary that may seem too advanced, but it is very well supported by the illustrations. It is also a book that you can continue to refer back to for years to come. My second, third, and even fourth graders love it! This author is wonderful at combining science and literary, so definitely check her out if you have not already!
Preschool at Home: Plants and Math
Counting and Sorting Seeds
Investigating seeds is such a great hands-on math activity. If you go to your local nursery, you can get a ton of different seeds of all different sizes, shapes, and colors. Aim for about twenty to twenty-five seeds total. Then, ask your toddler to sort the seeds by size or shape or color. Once sorted, ask your child to count how many are in each group.
Once sorted, ask your child to count how many are in each group. This is a great opportunity to practice one-to-one correspondence. Ask your child to take their finger and touch each seed as they count. Then, ask your child to compare which groups are larger or smaller than another. Use the vocabulary “greater than” and “less than” when teaching your child to compare. It will help later on, I promise!
Using these same seeds, ask your child to create a pattern. Start with a simple A-B pattern of alternating seeds. Do the first few and then ask your toddler to continue the pattern. Then, try adding on by doing an AAB, ABB, or ABBC pattern. Your toddler will have so much fun trying to guess the pattern! Patterning helps to set the stage for later math concepts like addition and multiplication.
Related Article: Preschool Math: Exploring Patterns (Education.com)
Preschool at Home: Science and Plants
Dissecting a Seed
This one is so fun! All you need is a few lima beans and a cup of water. Soak the lima bean seeds in water overnight to make it easier to remove the seed coat. Preserve one seed without soaking for comparison later. Let your toddler gently remove the seed coat after soaking and describe what it looks like and feels like. Then, ask your toddler to try and remove the seed coat from the seed that has not been soaked to illustrate the idea that the coat has to be strong to protect what is inside.
Next, gently break the seed in half. Inside, you will see a bumpy part and a smooth part. The bumpy part is the seed embryo or the beginning of a new plant. The smooth part is the food for the plant. Explain each part to your toddler, referring back to the books, as needed. You can draw a diagram and label the parts of the seed and ask your toddler to color each part.
If you are studying seeds and plants, you have to plant! Lima beans and sunflowers grow really quickly, so I recommend these for impatient toddlers. You can plant these outside in your garden or in containers, as well. A little water and a little sunlight and these plants will sprout in no time!
I like to plant at least two different types of seeds at the same time to compare and contrast. You could even turn it into a science experiment and play with amounts of sunlight and water for each plant! Hint: If you can use a glass or plastic see-through pot, your toddler can also observe the plant’s roots as it grows.
Even the youngest scientists can begin applying the scientific method! Making observations is such an important part of science. Once a week, ask your toddler to observe their plant and draw what they see. Try to encourage them to be as exact as possible. For example, if the plant has not yet begun to sprout, just draw dirt. If the plant grows one leaf, just draw one leaf.
Your little one may need a bit of help with this concept, but it is a great way to build vocabulary. I suggest making your observational drawing once per week. Then, you can compile all of the observations into a mini book to review how the plant has changed over time.
Science Experiments: Do Plants Really “Drink” Water?
Before conducting these experiments talk to your toddler about why we water plants. Explain that plants use the water to make food to grow just like we need water to grow, too! To illustrate this concept, you can do one of the two following experiments (or both!)
Gather your materials: a stalk of celery with leaves attached and stem trimmed, a glass cup of water, and red or blue food coloring. Place 10-20 drops of food coloring into the water and place the celery stalk in the water, leaves up. Leave overnight. Ask your toddler to draw a picture of what the celery looks like before and after the experiment.
After the celery is left overnight, the entire stalk will turn the color of the food coloring. Show your toddler how the celery drank all of the water through the stem and all the way to the leaves. Then show your toddler their plant and explain that we water the soil, so the plant can drink the water through its roots and give water to the entire plant.
This experiment is the same as with the celery, except you use carnations. I recommend getting white or light colored carnations. Again, gather a glass and fill it about 1/4-1/2 full of water. Add your red or blue food coloring (these colors work best) and place your carnation in the colored water overnight.
I would suggest starting this experiment in the morning and observing the color changes throughout the day. You could even do one carnation with red food coloring and one with blue to see which one absorbs the color fastest. Again, ask your toddler to observe and draw what the carnation looks like before the experiment. Then, add an additional observation about 8-12 hours after the carnation is placed in the water and one after the carnation has soaked overnight.
Preschool a Home: Arts and Crafts with Plants
Parts of a Flower
This arts and crafts activity is from The Learning Box Preschool. April’s theme was “The Rainforest” and “In My Garden”. For this activity, students get to apply arts and crafts while learning about the parts of a flower.
- 2 cupcake liners
- blue construction paper
- brown construction paper strip (for the “dirt”)
- green construction paper strip (for the “stem” of the flower)
Use the blue construction paper as the background for your project. Ask your toddler to flatten one of the cupcake liners and glue it to the top of the paper.
Hint: Teach your toddler to use glue sticks by gluing a circle around the underside of the cupcake liner and making an “X” in the middle or use liquid glue by squeezing little dots of glue on the outside edge and an “X” through the middle again.
Then, ask your toddler to glue the unflattened cupcake liner to the inside of the flattened one. Next, ask your toddler to use the green strip of paper to create a step for their flower that is the length of the paper. You may need to help them cut. From the scraps, cut out a few leaves. Then, ask your toddler to glue the stem and leaves to the paper.
Next, have your toddler glue the brown strip of paper to the bottom of the page for the “roots”. You could even have your toddler draw little white dots on the brown paper to show all of the nutrients in the soil. Finally, ask your toddler to glue the yard to the bottom of the stem, hanging off the end, like the “roots”.
Sunflower Handprint Craft
For almost every unit we do and definitely every holiday, I like to do some sort of handprint or footprint craft with my daughter. Not only are these great keepsakes that track her growth and changes, but they make great artwork to display!
- 8 x 10 white canvas
- Yellow, brown, and green paint
- Paint brushes
- Colorful ribbon for hanging
- Hot Glue Gun
First, help your toddler paint a brown circle in the middle of the canvas to create the center of the sunflower. Next, paint your toddler’s hand with the yellow paint and press their hand along the outside of the circle to create the sunflower’s petals. Use the green paint to help your toddler draw a stem for the flower and leaves. Once the paint is dry, use a hot glue gun to attach the ribbon for hanging. Voila, beautiful “handmade” artwork!
Preschool at Home: Practical Life with Seeds and Roots
You get the biggest “bang for your buck” when you can relate what you are learning to real life. In the classroom, I always try to share with my students when and how they will use a particular concept in their real lives. At home, these lessons are how I am teaching my toddler about the world around her and how to survive within it.
Seed Taste Test
It is really fun to show your little planters that there are many seeds that you can eat! Set up a seed taste test with a variety of grains, beans, and nuts. You could include a variety of slices of bread (I like 9-grain for the visual), plus cereal, and oats. For beans, I like chickpeas and soybeans. As long as your child is not allergic to nuts, you could include almonds, pistachios, walnuts, etc. Using a variety of nuts, some with shells and some without would be really fun to watch your toddler try to crack!
Plant Foods Sorting
Gather as many “edible” plants as you can and then ask your toddler to sort by whether they are seeds, stems, roots, fruits, or seeds. Gather items like carrots, potatoes, celery, lettuce, corn, apples, peanuts, etc. Try to gather familiar foods, but perhaps some unfamiliar foods too. You could even include edible flowers!
Before sorting, you could ask your toddler to help wash all of the items that need washing. Afterward, you could put these items together to make a salad together. You could cut the fruits and vegetables, but give your toddler jobs like tearing the lettuce leaves and tossing the items together. Then, eat and enjoy!
Roasted Root Vegetable Cooking
My favorite “real life” activity is to get my daughter in the kitchen with me and get cooking! She has been “cooking” since she was only one year old. I would put a bowl of food on her high chair and give her a spoon or little whisk and tell her to mix. She has all kinds of jobs in the kitchen from mixing to cooking to her favorite…taste testing.
Learning about plants is a great opportunity to incorporate cooking. Gather your favorite root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, turnips, onions, and parsnips. Cut them into toddler-sized bite pieces and spread on a cookie sheet. Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables and ask your toddler to liberally season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes or until vegetables are nicely browned.
After the root vegetables have cooled, ask your toddler to mix them all together in a big bowl. You can top them with parsley or cheese and serve as side dish or over quinoa for another “plant” based dish. Delicious, nutritious, and educational!
Related Post: How to Do Preschool at Home (Bear Theme)