Young children are intrigued by nature, stopping to investigate plants, leaves, flowers and insects with a raw curiosity that becomes infectious, even for busy adults who rarely stop to smell the roses. Parents can use everyday opportunities to teach a toddler or preschooler about plants by going for a walk in the park or the woods or by answering kids’ questions with further investigations and projects. Wrap up the lesson with a special dirt-themed treat, and you may be nurturing the growth of a prize-winning botanist.
Dirt cake doesn’t have to be just for looks and imaginary play. You can make an edible dirt cake to nurture your kids’ imaginations while giving them a sugar fix. Whip up a batch with your child by mixing chocolate or vanilla pudding powder with 2 cups of milk, then combining it with a mixture made of 8 ounces softened cream cheese, 1/3 cup butter, 1 cup powdered sugar and 8 ounces whipped cream. Crush a package of chocolate sandwich cookies, then create a layered pudding by alternating layers of crushed cookies with the pudding mixture. Serve individual servings in clear cups or present the dish in a clean flower pot.
What Plants Need
As you mix up your dirt cake together, teach your toddler or preschooler what plants need to grow — soil, water and sunlight. Help her make “soil” by crushing the cream-filled chocolate sandwich cookies, then pour them in the bottom of a dish. Next, talk about how fertilizer gives the soil nutrients to help plants grow. Add a scoop of the pudding mixture for “fertilizer.” Teach your child how worms also add nutrients to the soil, then help her place a few gummy worms in the dish. Continue layering ingredients. Plant peanuts or pretzels into the top layer to act as seeds or stems, then water the treat lightly with a bit of milk. Talk about good places to place plants where they will get enough sunlight. Dig in and enjoy a sweet, scientific treat.
Plant a Seed
Show your child the plant cycle in action by planting a real seed. Help your preschooler add soil to a small pot, placing a seed in the dirt and moistening it with water. Place the plant in a sunny window and begin your lesson on patience and observation as your child anxiously awaits a sprout. Start a plant journal to draw and write about the progress of the plant every few days. Encourage your child to draw a picture while you add a caption each day. Marigolds grow quickly and produce a brightly colored flower. Wrap up your activity by sharing a helping of dirt cake with your budding scientist.
Germinate a Bean
If you think your toddler will lose interest in a planted seed long before it sprouts, germinate a bean for quicker gratification. Nestle a kidney, Lima or pinto bean in a pile of damp cotton balls in a glass jar. Place the jar in a sunny window and check it daily, adding enough water to keep the cotton balls moist. After only a few days the seed will split open and the roots will start to emerge. Teach your child that this process is called germination. Once the plant has stems and leaves you can transfer it to soil. Practice planting seeds into a dirt cake by pushing nuts or candies into the top layer of “soil.”
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