Tag: Gardening With Children (Page 2 of 3)

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.

Weeds Find a Way for Garden Week

Monday starts out with a bang with a blog tour and giveaway (see below) for the exciting new picture book, Weeds Find a Way by Cindy Jenson-Elliott and illustrated by Carolyn Fisher.


Do your children always want to grab fiction picture books? Weeds Find a Way is a perfect example of the kind of nonfiction that will entice them to give it a try. Jenson-Elliott’s lyrical text paints vibrant, whimsical word pictures. For example, she says the bitter sap of a certain weed “…could turn a tongue inside out.” Can’t you visualize a plant bug with its beak puckered up?  As a perfect complement, Fisher’s mixed media and digital collage illustrations are intriguing and playful.

You can get a feel for the book in this trailer:

The back matter includes a serious discussion of weeds, including why they are interesting and important. There is also a list and descriptions of some common weeds, from dandelions to wild oats.

Weeds Find a Way gently introduces young readers to the wonders of the natural world by exploring these tough, adaptable plants. Pick up a copy and you will find out, as the author says, “Weeds are amazing!”




Edit: Would like to try to win a copy of Weeds Find a Way? Simply leave a comment on this blog post with a valid e-mail address (U.S. mailing addresses only) by March 8, 2014 at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. A winner will be selected at random from the comments. The giveaway is now closed.


Related Activities to Learn More About Weeds:

1. Cindy Jenson-Elliott has a free curriculum guide to download at her website (currently you download it by clicking on the book cover image). As she correctly points out, weeds can make good subjects to study because they are common and easy to find. She includes art ideas such as doing a botanical drawing, math and science activities (including plant adaptations) and even a weed poetry lesson.

2. Botany – Getting to know your local weeds.

For adults:

Why figure out what kinds of weeds you have?

I’m sure you all have heard of stories of people who have pulled out “weeds,” only to discover they were the seedlings of plants they were intending to grow. About.com has an enlightening essay about the hows and whys of garden weed identification. As the author rightly points out, an accurate identification is the key to proper action. Spend some time getting to know your local weeds and you might also find they have something to offer.

For example:


What use is the common dandelion, which grows virtually everywhere? You may have heard, or even tried them yourself, that you can eat the young green leaves in the spring. How about dandelion tea? They also are an important source of nectar and pollen for honey bees because they are some of the latest plants to bloom in the fall and some of the earliest in the spring.


Children love to help disperse the seeds by blowing on them.


(Public domain photograph by Petr Kratochvil )

Besides, what is more beautiful than a sea of golden yellow flowers to run in?

Where to get help with weed identification?

A useful resource is your local Cooperative Extension office. They are like to have fact sheets about local weeds and Master Gardener volunteers to help.

Online resources, such as this key to weeds from the University of Minnesota Extension, can be helpful, too.

Your local library or bookstore carry books on weed identification, such as Weeds of the Northeast (Comstock books) by Richard H. Uva, Joseph C. Neal, and Joseph M. DiTomaso.

For children:

Weeds have many special ways to help them survive. Let’s take a “walk” and see what we can find out.

a. If you were a deer, which would you rather eat:  one of these plants or a lettuce leaf?


Many weeds have prickles, thorns or spines to keep from being eaten by animals.  They also may contain chemicals that make them taste bad or might even be poisonous.

Do you know what this plant is? It is a teasel.

b. Look at this “flower” closely. Can you see that it actually is made up of many, many tiny flowers. How might that help a weed survive?


Each of the tiny flowers has the capability of becoming a seed. Weeds, such as this Queen Anne’s lace (wild carrot), can make up to 350 seeds in one flower head!

c. Besides being too spiky to eat, how might the hooks on this plant help it?

budrock-burThe hooks on the burdock catch in an animal’s fur or on your socks. If you don’t notice, you carry the bur with its seeds inside to a new place. When you do take it off and throw it away, it might just be in a great new place to grow. Weeds have many tricky ways like this to spread their seeds.

d. Plants in the mustard genus (Brassica) are really good at racing. Any ideas why that might help them survive?


Mustards can germinate, grow and produce seeds very quickly. That means they can complete a life cycle in a short time compared to other plants.

Experiment idea:  Plant a known number of radish (which is a mustard relative) seeds and carrot seeds in containers under the same conditions. Record when you see the first radish sprouts and when you see the first carrots. Who won the race?

e. These heart-shaped seeds are extra hard and tough. How might that help the weed survive?


Velvet leaf seeds are so hard that they can stay alive in the soil up to 60 years. Many plants seeds stay viable (able to sprout) for only a few years.

Why don’t you go on a real walk and see if you can spot other weedy secrets. Then read a great book like Weeds Find a Way to learn more.


Weeds Find a Way

Age Range: 4 – 8 years
Grade Level: Preschool – 3
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Beach Lane Books (February 4, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1442412607
ISBN-13: 978-1442412606

Be sure to visit the upcoming stops on the Weeds Find a Way? blog tour:
Tues, Feb 25 – As They Grow Up
Wed, Feb 26 – Kid Lit Frenzy
Thurs, Feb 27 – Sharpread
Fri, Feb 28 – Children’s Book Review
Mon, Mar 3 – Let’s Go Chipper!
Tues, Mar 4 – Just a Little Creativity
Wed, Mar 5 – Unleashing Readers
Thurs, Mar 6 – 5 Minutes for Books
Fri, Mar 7- Archimedes Notebook


Interested in gardening? Have resources to share? Join us for Children’s Garden Week this week.


Disclosures: This book was provided for review purposes via Blue Slip Media. I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at not extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

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.


Please Join Us for Children’s Garden Week

Are you pining for spring? Leafing through garden catalogs? Then join us this for children’s garden week this Monday, February 24, 2014 – Friday. February 28, 2014!


Inspired by some new children’s books and and urge to plant some seeds, here’s what we have lined up (links will be added as they go live):

Monday – An investigation of weeds with the children’s book, Weeds Find a Way

Tuesday – A garden-related seed challenge

Wednesday – Garden insect identification:  immature insects and life cycles

Thursday – A primer on compost with the children’s book, Rotten Pumpkin:  A Rotten Tale in 15 Voices

Friday – A call to action to grow naturally-occurring plants for wildlife with the children’s book, Plant a Pocket of Prairie.

Are you planning to grow a garden this year? Do you have

  •  links to blog posts about gardening with children,
  • examples of your favorite gardening books,
  • or gardening questions?

If you choose to, share a comment on one of these posts. We would love to hear what you have to offer, too.


Gardening with Children Resources:

(we’ll add yours here):

Anna has a post about The Ecology of Compost.

Educator’s Put a Spin On It have a list of their gardening activities with kids (bottom of post), plus are going to have 31 days of gardening activities in March, culminating with Plant a Seed Day March 31, 2014.

Gardening Resources at Smartgardener.com (suggested by A Life Inspired by Nature)

Weeds or Not to Weed (A Life Inspired by Nature)

Planning a children’s garden (Growing with Science)

Celebrating wildflowers and STEM in the garden (Growing with Science)

Winter botany (Growing with Science)

Earlier post about weed science (Growing with Science)

Germination tests and more about germination (Growing with Science)

List of children’s books about seeds (Science Books for Kids)

3 Books for Science in the Garden (Wrapped in Foil)


Visit our Gardening/Science Activities for Kids Pinterest board.

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