Category: Garden Week (Page 2 of 3)

Giveaway Contest: Gardening Lab for Kids

We have a lot of news today:

The good news this week is that the weather in many areas has begun to warm up. With the arrival of spring,  you may be thinking of gardening with children. The better news is Quarry Books has published Gardening Lab for Kids: 52 Fun Experiments to Learn, Grow, Harvest, Make, Play, and Enjoy Your Garden (Hands-On Family) by Renata Fossen Brown this month and it is just the book to have on hand to add enjoyment and depth to a child’s gardening experience. The best news is that you have a chance to win a copy through our giveaway contest (see below)!

Before going any further, it is important to note that although the term “experiments” in the subtitle might suggest scientific trials or investigations, for this book “experiment” is actually used more in the sense of “to try something new.”  Gardening Lab for Kids is a lovely collection of hands-on activities for children to do for every week of the year, from designing a garden and making seed tape, to planting a garden in a shoe, growing a pizza garden, and constructing a wind chime. In addition, children will certainly learn some science as they explore parts of plants, investigate soils, try out composting, and learn about watering.

Renata Fossen Brown is Vice President of Education at the Cleveland Botanical Garden, and her experience and resources show in the quality of the book. Each “Lab” is accompanied by color photographs of children doing the activity, a list of materials, step-by-step procedures written for children, and suggestions for extensions (“Dig Deeper!”) Each activity is designed so that it could stand alone or be used as a series. Many of the activities can be done with limited space and use readily-available materials.

Gardening is a wonderful hobby for children because, as Brown writes, it gets them active and outdoors. It has many benefits, such as it helps children connect with their food, learn about nature, and explore their creativity. Gardening is an especially good project for kinesthetic learners, who always reap extra rewards from hands-on activities. Brown also alludes to studies that have shown that getting outdoors helps children develop focus.

With all the benefits, are you ready to “try something new” and do some gardening?  Gardening Lab for Kids has the ideas and instructions to get started today!

leaf-borderGiveaway Contest

Would you like to try to win a copy of Gardening Lab for Kids? Simply leave a comment on this blog post with a valid e-mail address (U.S. mailing addresses only, please) by May 5, 2014 at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. A single winner will be selected at random from the comments and notified via e-mail. The giveaway contest is now closed.


Age Range: 5 – 12 years
Grade Level: Kindergarten – 6
Series: Hands-On Family
Paperback: 136 pages
Publisher: Quarry Books (April 1, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1592539041
ISBN-13: 978-1592539048

For more ideas, visit our Gardening/Science Activities for Kids Pinterest board and our recent posts for Children’s Garden Week.


Disclosures: This book was provided for review by the publisher. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

If you are interested in children’s nonfiction, you might want to visit the Nonfiction Monday blog and see what other new books bloggers have found.


Native Plants for Garden Week: Plant a Pocket of Prairie

When we think of gardening with children, the first thing that comes to mind is often vegetable or kitchen gardening. Have you ever considered wildlife gardening? It is a whole new way to enrich your children’s lives.

In this vein, Plant a Pocket of Prairie by Phyllis Root and illustrated by Betsy Bowen is an exciting new picture book coming out April 15, 2014. It explores the prairies of Minnesota, but has a much more general appeal and a serious message that can apply anywhere.


The first thing you notice about the book when you open it is Betsy Bowen’s gorgeous woodcuts (children might like to see how she does them). They are so clean and vibrant, they make you want to hang the book on the wall.

Phyllis Root’s free verse text starts out by explaining,

“Almost all gone now
to farm and town and city,
even before we knew
all of the things a prairie could do.”

She then highlights examples of relationships between specific plants and animals in the prairie ecosystem, such as between foxglove beardtongue (a type of Penstemon) and hummingbirds; monarch butterflies and milkweeds; and goldfinches and sunflowers. The back matter includes lists of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, insects, and plants commonly found in prairies.


Did you know that the prairie is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world? In the back matter the author also explains that less than one percent of native prairies remain. Her premise is that if you plant a pocket of prairie in a backyard, lot or even in containers, some of the animals she identifies might come to visit. If enough people plant pockets, more struggling plants and animals might survive. If everyone who lives where prairies once occurred were to plant a “pocket of prairie,” who knows what might show up. The illustrations suggest a bison, giving the children a concrete idea of the big things that could happen.

Which is really what Plant a Pocket of Prairie is all about, it is a little book with a big idea that could enrich our world by inspiring people to grow native plants.

Are you ready to grow native plants? How do you start?

If you want to start a prairie, of course the first question is:  what is a prairie? The word comes from a French word meaning “meadow.” Typically prairies are expanses of grasses mixed with other plants, but with few or no trees.

How would you go about it? Here in Arizona it is not uncommon to see yards with absolutely no lawn, but in most areas an expanse of lawn is still the norm. One step could be to carve out areas from that lawn and start adding beds and borders of a mix of native perennials. Over time, you could continue to expand the beds until you reach the point where you can throw away the lawnmower.

Wonder what it might look like to replace the lawn with a meadow?

Alex-Wild's-gardengardenThis is Alex Wild’s prairie yard. (Copyrighted photograph of photographer Alex Wild’s meadow yard used with permission. See more of Alex Wild’s work at SmugMug.) Includes “black-eyed susans, prairie milkweed, New England aster, ironweed, and blazing star.”

Isn’t it wonderful? Of course you’ll want to include paths so your children can run through and explore. Imagine all the wildlife they would be able to experience first hand.

Not ready to convert the whole yard? If you already have flower beds or pots, simply throw away the geraniums (which produce absolutely nothing for wildlife) and grow plants that are naturally found in your area, such as purple coneflowers and penstemons, instead.

Another idea is to simply not be so neat and tidy. Allow some “weeds” to flourish in the corners and along banks, etc. When you see butterflies or birds visiting, point them out to the members of your community so they become interested, too.

Side note:  Right now people are focused on the plight of the monarch butterfly, because the numbers are declining so rapidly. Although encouraging milkweeds is a wonderful idea to help out, be sure to plant other native plants as well. Diversity is the key.

Because every region has its own naturally-occurring plants, it can be a daunting task to find out what to plant and where to find material. Fortunately most states have native plant societies with information to help out. The American Horticultural Society has a list of native plant societies by state, with addresses and links to websites.

Still have questions or have information to share? If you have ideas about wildlife gardening for kids or if you are interested in learning more, please leave a comment.


Build-a-Prairie is an online interactive game from the Bell Museum that is fun and educational (I recommend consulting the field guides provided :-)). It gives the important message that plant choice is critical.

The Home Bug Gardener blog recounts a transition of a yard in Canada over several years to an “oasis of biodiversity” (check older posts first, as currently the author lives in Australia).

Review of Touch a Butterfly:  Wildlife Gardening with Kids

In the UK? Try the Wildlife Garden Project

And let’s not forget our inspiration, Plant a Pocket of Prairie

Ages 5-10
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press (April 15, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0816679800
ISBN-13: 978-0816679805

Thank you for visiting us during Children’s Garden Week. Don’t forget to check the Children’s Garden Week organizational post for updates as well as visit our Gardening/Science Activities for Kids Pinterest board.



Disclosures: This book was provided for review electronically via NetGalley. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.


Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.

Garden Week: Exploring Decomposition with Rotten Pumpkin

In our increasingly sterile and antibiotic-filled world, it is easy to forget the importance of microorganisms and the process of decomposition to soil quality. The picture book Rotten Pumpkin: A Rotten Tale in 15 Voices by David M. Schwartz and with photographs by Dwight Kuhn takes you down and dirty with close-ups of molds, slime molds and yeasts, as well as other organisms, to show how nutrients get recycled and organic matter added to the soil.


I’ll let you know right up front that this book is not for the highly squeamish. If the thought of fly vomit makes you quiver, then you might not find the book as delightful as I did. Photographer Kuhn spares nothing as he follows the decomposition meltdown of a carved Halloween pumpkin. Remember that kids, however, might enjoy all that goo and ooze. Plus, the team of David M. Schwartz and Dwight Kuhn have worked on a number of projects together and their expertise shows.

I found this short time-lapse video that will give you an inkling of what to expect:

David Schwartz tells the story of 15 decomposing organisms from the first person point of view, bringing the reader right in. I don’t think it will be too much of a “spoiler” to let you know the cycle ends on an upbeat note with a pumpkin seed sprouting in the resulting compost.

Rotten Pumpkin will be highlighted at Halloween because of the pumpkin, but it deserves a place on the shelf all year around because of the universal processes it explores.

Related activities:

Experiencing compost and the process of decomposition first hand can be a life-changing lesson for children. Don’t be afraid to get dirty!

1. The suggestions for classroom investigations using pumpkins in the back of the book are excellent ones, for example looking at how temperature changes the decomposition process.


(Photograph of compost bin in public domain at Wikipedia)

2. Composting

My sister and I consider ourselves lucky because our mother was composting back in the 1960s when we were growing up. Our mother was way ahead of her time, but we got to learn how it worked at an early age.

As we moved around the country we realized composting is one of those processes that varies a bit from place to place and situation to situation. Therefore, I recommend that before you launch a big project that you find a local class or the advice of a local gardening expert if you can. The Internet is also filled with basic information, such as website and videos. Here are just a few examples:

Michigan Kids has kid-friendly instructions about composting to get you started.

The Texas Agricultural Extension Service has a Composting for Kids slide show.

Hamilton County Recycles has a fun, upbeat video on how to get started with backyard composting:

Once you have compost going, Cornell University has a bunch of information and excellent experiment ideas at The Science and Engineering of Composting.

3. Composting with earthworms

If you don’t have room for a full-fledged compost bin, you might want to investigate a worm bin. Our family’s worm composting adventure was definitely a memorable and worthwhile experience. We also shared our worm bin with students in my son’s classes. See the Weekend Science Fun: Earthworms for more details (worm composting is towards the bottom of the post) and an instruction video.

Have doubts? Think composting might be smelly or icky? Yes, it might be those things on occasion, but experimenting with compost also will yield a much deeper understanding of our world.

Age Range: 4 – 12 years
Grade Level: Preschool – 7
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Creston Books (July 23, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1939547032
ISBN-13: 978-1939547033

Thank you for visiting us during Children’s Garden Week. If you have children’s gardening resources you would like to include, please feel free to leave a comment.



Disclosures: This book was provided for review by Creston Books. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

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