Learning does not need to stop in the summer. Sure, the majority of local kids are sitting at home playing video games, surfing the net, watching TV, and letting their brains turn to mush, but that does not have to be your children. Just because summer has been a vacation from school for the last hundred years does not mean that you cannot buck that trend. Taking nearly three months off from learning each year makes no sense from an educational perspective. If you do, you will likely need to spend time reviewing when you start back up again. Why not just continue through the summer and keep on learning?
Of course, there are reasons to take a break now and then. And while the weather is so nice out there is no reason you shouldn’t make summer learning a little more lighthearted. Summer is a great time for outdoor learning, for tackling big and time-consuming projects, and for letting your kids pick out educational activities that they think will be fun. And what better way to start the summer than with a fun science project like a terrarium?
What Is A Terrarium?
A terrarium is essentially a garden in miniature, housed in a glass or plastic container. The word comes from Latin. Terra means earth, and arium means a place for something. So, a terrarium is a place for earth, just like an aquarium is a place for water. A terrarium can be artistic, in that you can arrange your plants alongside rocks, pebbles, leaves, sticks, and other natural elements as well as small toys or trinkets to make a scene that looks pleasant. It is also a scientific endeavor. You are creating a mini ecosystem that can be observed. You can even introduce insects or small reptiles and amphibians to your terrarium ecosystem.
What Can The Kids Learn From A Terrarium?
The learning opportunities with a terrarium are numerous. Add to that the fact that making one is inexpensive and caring for it is easy, and you have a no-brainer for a summer science project. While most of what your kids can learn from their terrarium is science-related, you can also use it as a chance to mingle art with science. Emphasize to your kids as they make a terrarium that although they are making an ecosystem, they are also making something that should look nice. It is not always easy to see art in other subjects, but this is a great chance to do so.
As for science, a terrarium is a great way to learn about the water cycle. Water on the earth cycles through several different states from ground and surface water to clouds, to rain, and back again to the ground. It evaporates from the earth to become a vapor in the atmosphere. There, water condenses to form the water droplets that make up clouds. When they get large enough, the droplets fall back to the earth as precipitation, and the cycle begins again. In a terrarium, you get to see this process in miniature. You need only add water to it once a month because within the container, the water will evaporate, condense, and precipitate, just as it does in the earth at large.
Your children will also learn about caring for the earth and for living things. Stress to them that the terrarium is like the earth in miniature and that if they care for it properly, it will thrive. If they ignore it, pollute it, or introduce harmful substances, the terrarium will no longer be healthy. The plants will die and any animals they have placed in it will die as well. They will learn valuable lessons about responsibility in general, and about responsibility for the only earth we have.
A terrarium can be a great lesson in plants. You can let your kids select the plants to be placed in their terrarium. You can choose exotic plants that do not grow in your local environment or you can create a miniature of your backyard. Either way, you can use the terrarium as a stepping stone to learning about different types of plants and different ecosystems. To learn about the life cycle of plants, start some from seeds in the terrarium.
Learn about animals and how they interact with their environment using a terrarium. For the simplest way to do this, collect insects to keep in your terrarium. Have the kids observe them on a daily basis to see how they live, what they eat, and when they die. If you are up for more responsibility, you can include lizards, hermit crabs, frogs, toads, snails, newts, turtles, or salamanders in your terrariums. Caring for a larger animal can be a great way to teach your children responsibility and respect for life.
How Do We Make A Terrarium?
Making a terrarium is essentially very simple. You can, however, make it more complex by making one that is very large or one that supports a pet reptile or amphibian. Terrariums can be open or closed, but the best way to see the water cycle in action is with a closed terrarium. Here are the materials you will need:
- A container. This can be as simple as a 2-liter pop bottle. You can also use any kind of glass container. Those with narrow openings at the top make for very striking terrariums, but it is not easy to get the plants in. You can use a glass container with a large opening and put plastic wrap over the top to make it a closed type.
- Potting soil
- Small rocks or gravel
- Plants. You want small plants that grow well in a moist environment. Take a trip to your local nursery to explore and talk with an expert about what you might choose. Or, wander around your yard and harvest a few plants to try out. If they don’t work in the terrarium, you can always start over.
- Any decorations you like
If each child wants to make their own terrarium, 2-liter bottles are a great, inexpensive way to go. Start creating your terrarium by cutting the top of the bottle off. Cut it about two inches down from the shoulder of the bottle. You will create the terrarium in the bottom portion and then place the top back on to create your closed environment. Once you have put it all together, a great experiment for the kids is to see what happens when you unscrew the top and leave it open versus keeping it closed.
Start your terrarium with a layer of stones or gravel in the bottom for drainage. This should be at least one half inch deep. Next, add potting soil to a depth of about four or five inches. The fun part is next. Now you get to put your plants and any decorative elements in that you choose. If necessary, trim plants down to a reasonable size. This is where your kids get to be artistic. Allow them to find various items to place in the terrarium. Maybe they want to go natural and use moss, rocks, and sticks. Others may want to place some of their toys in it. Let them be creative and have fun!
Once the terrarium is arranged just so, put the lid on. You can tape it in place if it doesn’t seem to want to stay put. Find a good spot for the terrarium. It should be somewhere with moderate sunlight. Too much light can make the inside of the terrarium too hot. You will not need to water the plants very often, as the water cycle will be recycling moisture throughout the terrarium. Just make sure that the soil is always moist, but not wet or dry. You will probably only need to add a spritz of water once a month. If it gets too wet, just remove the top and let it dry out a little bit.
If you are thinking of making a more complex terrarium with an animal, make sure you do research on how to care for the little critter. Make sure you understand how much water it should have, what it eats, and what the temperature should be so that the animal stays happy and healthy.
©2012 Off the Grid News