Introducing plants in the classroom may be one of the greatest decisions you make this back to school season!
As you look around your classroom and start thinking about what you want to add or change going into back to school season, maybe it’s time to consider adding a little more green.
No, I don’t think you should create an all-green bulletin board or color-code your groups…although I like both of those ideas too. I’m actually thinking of going a little more natural.
Introducing plants in the classroom is one way to improve both your physical space and your students’ head-space as you embark on another school year.
Research has been done on having plants in the classroom, and it shows that plants are highly beneficial. In fact, this article from Clemson Cooperative Extension outlines many of the benefits including a reduction of stress as well as improved concentration. Some of the other benefits are increased productivity and reduced mental fatigue. Not to mention the educational benefits of learning about plants, their needs, and how to care for them.
A Beginners Guide to Introducing Plants in the Classroom
With all the great benefits of giving my students plants to care for, I like to go all in with our classroom plants, and over the years, I think I’ve been able to put together a pretty good list of tips to get you started!
Here are a few of my greatest classroom plant suggestions…
#1 | Assign plants to groups.
At the beginning of the year, assign a small plant to groups of students (4 students has worked well for me). The plants can be placed in the center of table groups or in other locations around the room, but each plant will ‘belong’ to a group.
#2 | Treat the plants like class pets.
The group members are responsible for the care of their assigned plant for the entire school year.
Have them research and record information about proper care of their plant and spend time discussing good plant care in general. One of the biggest problems new plant owners have to overcome is the tendency to over-water, so be very careful with this part!
In addition to caring for the plant, have the students name it and create a name tag or decorate the plant’s pot to reflect its name and give it a little pizazz. If you really get into this part, they will too. Refer to the plants by name and talk about them with the students. Say things like, “Oh, poor Frank looks thirsty this morning.”
Include the plants in other classroom experiences. For example, you can let students decorate their plants for different holidays or dress them up for Halloween or other school-wide dress up days.
Have fun with including the plants as part of your classroom activities, and your students will too.
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#3 | You can also use the plants in classroom lessons.
One way to easily tie the plants into your classroom lessons is to use them when discussing the life cycle of plants. This Plant Life Cycle Lapbook will help to guide the conversation, and then students can use their own plants to reference and observe.
You can also use your plants as part of your math and science units. For example, you could use a plant as one of the items for the measurement scavenger hunt that we introduced in this blog post or you could have students graph out their plant’s weight, the amount of water it responds to best, and/or its height and width to see if their plant is growing properly.
#4 | Take lots of pictures.
Right after introducing plants in the classroom, take a beginning of the year picture of each group with their plant. Later, take a mid-year and end-of-year picture for comparison or take them monthly using those little 1-month-old, 2-months-old stickers that parents use with babies. These can be hung on a bulletin board or just outside the classroom in the hallway. I like to call this bulletin board “Watch Us Grow!”
#5 | Make a plan for the end of the year.
When the end of the year rolls around, you have a few different options. You can give the plants away as prizes to a student from each group. You could also donate them to the library or send them along with a card to the local nursing home for the residents to enjoy. So many options! Just have a plan, so that you save enough time to act on it if necessary.
Picking the Right Classroom Plants
One of the best things you can do when introducing plants in the classroom is to be picky about the kind of plants you start with.
For example, you’ll want plants that need only low to medium light due to the nature of classroom lighting and available window space. Luckily, fluorescent lighting is perfect for most plants, so even if you aren’t one of those lucky teachers with lots of windows, you can still bring plants into the classroom without that worry.
You’ll also want to check that the plants you choose are safe for kids. Some common houseplants are toxic if ingested, and the classroom is not the place for those types of plants. I’m not saying that there is any reason why your students will be eating the plants, but we’ve all been around elementary students long enough to know that these things can happen.
Other than that, you can pick out several different types of plants or you can get several of the same type. It is totally up to you and what you think you can handle.
How to Care for Classroom Plants
Make sure to have pots that are the correct size for the plants both at their current size and the size they will grow into throughout the year. Our plants, like our students, will see some growth spurts, and you’ll want to make sure that you either start in a pot that is big enough to handle the plant as it gets larger, or have some bigger pots on hand and ready for when you’ll need to re-pot them later in the year.
Obviously how much the plants will grow will depend on the type of plant. Some plants will not grow much at all, and this will not be an issue. Personally, I like plants that grow a lot over the course of the school year because we can take monthly ‘age’ pictures with our plants and plot their growth.
Another item you’ll want to have on hand when introducing plants in the classroom is some small watering cans that students can use to care for the plants. You’ll probably want at least a few of these so that more than one group can use them at a time.
Don’t Let Fear Hold You Back!
We’ve all heard of plant-based foods, but have you ever heard of plant-based fears…probably not, since I may have just made it up, but I think a lot of people will understand what I’m talking about.
If you have never been blessed with a particularly green thumb, the idea of bringing these living things into your classroom just to watch them shrivel up and die on your watch may keep you from taking a chance on introducing plants in the classroom.
There are all sorts of plants, and they all have different needs. All you need is someone who can help.
If you feel your plant-based fears are holding you back, then you may need to find a guide on the side to help you navigate these ‘mossy’ waters (pun intended). Try starting with your local greenhouse. See if they can recommend some plants that would be low maintenance, or even ask if they would be willing to come in and teach your students a little more about how to care for their plants.
If you strike out with the greenhouse, consider contacting a University Agricultural Department or your high school FFA chapter. All of these groups typically do tasks and practice skills related to keeping plants alive and they may be able to help you get started!
It doesn’t hurt to ask if the benefits outweigh the burdens…and in my experience, they do!
I really hope you’ll consider introducing plants into the classroom this year even if it is just one or two to get started.
Remember, it doesn’t hurt to start small and give yourself space to grow…(😀 pun intended).