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Unit Overview

Unit Overview

In this three-week curriculum, children explore the science of plants:

Week 1: Planting Seeds
Plant seeds and bulbs, then watch them grow.

Week 2: Trees and Plants
Investigate trees and plants outdoors.   

Week 3: Plants We Eat
Explore fruits and vegetables.

Between 60 to 90 minutes of science exploration is offered throughout a day. The day is broken into four segments: 

Morning Circle (20–30 min.)
Read a story or watch a PEEP video (15–20 min.). 
Then, do a short, hands-on activity (5–10 min.).

Learning Centers (15–30 min.)  
Give children time for free exploration at 4–5 different learning centers.

Guided Activity (20–30 min.)
Guide children through a longer, hands-on activity.

Closing Circle (10–15 min.)
Get together and share the day’s discoveries. 

Learning Goals

Learning Goals

Science Concepts

  • There are many different types of plants and seeds.
  • Plants grow from seeds. Some plants also grow from bulbs.
  • Different plants grow from different seeds and bulbs.
  • Plants need water and light to grow.
  • Plants have different parts: roots, stems, leaves, and fruit.
  • Some parts of the plant are below the ground and some are above.
  • Plants outside grow in many places. Usually they grow in soil.
  • A tree is a very large plant. There are many different types of trees.
  • Many of the foods we eat come from plants.
  • We eat certain leaves, roots, fruits, and seeds.
  • Fruits have seeds.
  • It is important to treat the environment with respect and care.

Children will practice scientific skills as they learn about plants. They will:

  • observe, describe, and sort various natural objects
  • predict and compare changes in their growing plants
  • do simple experiments, talk about cause and effect, and share ideas

Language and Literacy


Children will hear and use words that:

  • describe plants, like seeds, roots, stem, leaf, trunk, bark, branch, flower, sprout, fruit, and vegetable 
  • help them develop scientific skills, like change, observe, describe, compare, contrast, discover, identify, and predict

Print Awareness

Children will listen and “read” along as the words are read back to them. They’ll see their words written on art they have made and in their Plant Journals.

Book Experiences

Children will listen to and discuss books about plants, and will explore books independently.

Emergent Writing

Children will record their plant observations through drawing and “writing.”   

Early Math

Classify, Sort, Count, and Measure  

Children will sort and classify leaves and seeds, count seeds in a fruit, measure plants,  and create charts that record the growth of plants from day to day.

Safety Issues 

Food Safety  

  • Check with parents and guardians in advance about children’s food allergies and sensitivities. Children will be sampling peas, root and leaf vegetables, different fruits, potatoes, alfalfa or clover sprouts, and sunflower seeds over the course of the curriculum.
  • Be sure children know to only eat or taste seeds that an adult says are OK to eat.
  • Have them wash their hands before and after each activity. 

Outdoor Safety 

Check the areas where you will take children. Look out for:

  • Traffic
  • Glass and other litter
  • Poison ivy and other plants that can cause rashes
  • Stinging nettles and bushes with thorns

Be sure to tell children not to touch or eat any plants without first asking an adult.

Indoor Safety

Some houseplants and flowers contain toxins. Protect children against potentially harmful houseplants and cut flowers by researching their safety online. 

Respect the Environment

Helping children learn to respect the environment is an important part of plant study. Collecting parts of plants that have fallen on the ground is fine, but children should not break off bark, twigs, leaves, or flowers. This can hurt or kill a plant.




Here are the materials needed for all the activities and learning centers in Explore Plants. The materials are also listed with each activity.



  crayons and markers

  white printer paper

  colored construction paper

  chart paper

  paste, tape, or glue

  scissors (for children)

  scissors or plant trimming scissors


  several water spray bottles


  magnifying glasses, enough for each child (available at http://www.discountschoolsupply.com/ and http://www.orientaltrading.com)


Learning Centers

  assorted houseplants

  bouquet of cut flowers in vase

  branches and twigs

  assorted types of flower and vegetable seed packets

  bowls for displaying seeds, or white ice cube trays

  poster board or mural paper for large “Our Plants” chart

  leaves, bark, and seeds collected from the ground


Week 1 Activities: Planting Seeds

  two houseplants

  fresh pea pods

  dry kidney or lima beans

  dry kidney or lima beans soaked overnight

  plastic cups (with holes poked in bottom for drainage)

  plastic plates

  paper plates

  potting soil, without added fertilizer

  plastic wrap

  paper towels

  plastic sandwich bags

  sunflower seeds, with and without shells

  grass seeds (cat grass grows especially fast and is available at garden and pet stores)

  green onion bulbs

  clear plastic/glass vases or jars

  images of bulbs growing in a garden from the Internet or a book

  images of a fully grown kidney bean plant with bean pods, from the Internet or a book

  3 white carnations cut short, leaving about 2–3 inches of stem

  2 colors of food coloring

  bucket (optional)


Week 2 Activities: Trees and Plants


  an acorn, or a photo or drawing of an acorn

  unwrapped crayons

  hula hoops or circles of string

  small paper bags

  “mystery bag” or pillow case filled with leaves, twigs, branches, pine needles, pinecones, chestnuts, acorns, a piece of bark, etc., that you’ve collected


Week 3: Plants We Eat

Vegetables Activities

  flower pot

  potting soil

  carrot with leaves still attached

  alfalfa or clover sprout seeds, soaked overnight (you may have to visit a few supermarkets or garden stores to find these)

  glass jar (sterilized)


  rubber band

  aluminum pie pan

  potatoes, one cooked and one raw

  root vegetables (such as carrots and radishes, with the leaves attached, if possible)

  leaf vegetables (such as lettuce and spinach)

  salad dressing




Fruits Activities

  apples and pears

  3 fruits with different types of seeds and pits (perhaps kiwifruit, peach, and melon)

  oranges (one per child)

  3 other citrus fruits (perhaps clementines, grapefruits, limes, or lemons)

  manual juicer



  plastic knives

  various kinds of fruits for a fruit salad (grapes, bananas, oranges, melon, apple, kiwi, strawberries, etc.)

Videos and Games

Videos and Games

Videos: PEEP Episodes

These animated videos about plants are used in the curriculum.

Peep Plants a Seed (9:00)

Peep discovers a patch of sunflowers and decides to grow one for himself.

An Inconvenient Tooth, Part 1 (9:00)

Beaver Boy needs some wood to gnaw. (He’s got growing teeth!) Problem is, he’s cutting down too many trees. The solution? Grow some new trees!

Videos: PEEP Live-Action

These live-action videos about plants are used in the curriculum.

Experimenting with Seeds (1:30)

The kids place seeds and beans on trays with moist paper towels and set them by the window. One is covered so it gets no light. How do the seeds look a week later?

Exploring Small Places (1:30)

The kids take a closer look to see textures, colors and surfaces that they never noticed before.

Collecting and Sorting (1:30)

The yard is full of stuff to collect. The kids make a backyard museum featuring an exhibit of sticks, balls, leaves and more. "Try collecting things and sorting them."

Planting Project (1:30)

The kids start a planting project. They plant tomato and sunflower seeds. What will happen as the seeds take root? Will they sprout? How tall will they get?



Read-Aloud Books

These books are used in the curriculum. They are available in bookstores or from the library.

Ruth Krauss. The Carrot Seed. Harper Collins, 1945. When a little boy plants a carrot seed, no one thinks it will grow. But the boy is sure it will.

Anne Rockwell. One Bean. Walker Publishing Company, Inc., 1999. A child plants a bean and experiences its whole life cycle.

Elly MacKay. If You Hold a Seed. Running Press, 2013. A seed and a wish can bring you a tree.

Janice May Udry. A Tree Is Nice. Harper Collins, 1956. Trees are nice to have around for so many reasons.

Lois Ehlert. Growing Vegetable Soup. Harcourt, Inc., 1987. Dad and son prepare vegetable soup from the very first steps.

Jean Richards. A Fruit Is a Suitcase for Seeds. Millbrook Press, 2002. How do seeds travel? Where are they in different fruits?

Lois Ehlert. Eating the Alphabet. Voyager Books, 1989. Fruits and vegetables from A to Z.

Field Guides and Reference Books: Add a selection of seed catalogs, plant and tree field guides, and other illustrated reference books to your Library Center.

Additional Books (Optional)

You may also want to share these books with children.   

Eve Bunting. Flower Garden. Voyager Books, 1994. A book about flowers, birthdays, and surprises.

Douglas Florian. Vegetable Garden. Voyager Books, 1991. A rhyming look at the process of growth of a vegetable garden.

Vivian French. Oliver’s Fruit Salad. Hodder Children’s Books, 1998. Oliver refuses to eat any fruit until he sees his Grandpa’s bowl of fruit salad.

Grace Lin. The Ugly Vegetables. Scholastic, Inc. 1999. All the neighbors’ gardens are full of flowers, but the family whose garden is full of ugly vegetables will have something delicious to share.

Diane Muldrow. We Planted a Tree. Golden Books, 2010. Two families on opposite ends of the world plant trees.


Handouts for Parents

Handouts for Parents

In the first week of the Explore Plants curriculum, print this letter and send it home with children’s parents or guardians. The activities in the letter give families and children ways they can enjoy science together. The letter also gives book and Web site recommendations. During Morning Circle, invite children to share their at-home science discoveries with the group.

Each letter is provided in English and Spanish:

Explore Plants with Your Child (PDF)

Explore las plantas con el niño (PDF)

For parents new to PEEP, there’s also a handout with tips for:

Exploring Science with Children (PDF)

Exploremos las ciencias (PDF)


Educator Reflection

Educator Reflection

These questions may help you think about the successes and challenges of the Explore Plants unit.

  1. What was the most satisfying part of the Explore Plants unit for you and your students? Planting seeds and bulbs indoors? Examining plants outdoors? Something else? What made it so satisfying?
  2. As you watched and listened to your children explore, what things surprised you? (For example, certain questions or observations about plants, or specific things that fascinated the children.)
  3. Which activities would you change or extend next time you use the Explore Plants unit? What would you keep the same? How could you build on children’s interests and enthusiasm to make this an even richer science learning experience?
Educator Close-Up

Educator Close-Up

Terry describes what her children discovered and what she learned as a teacher during their plant exploration.

Plants Indoors

When I first introduced bulbs at Circle Time, I spread them out on the carpet and said, “I wonder what these are.” The children had lots of ideas.

Lia: Looks like an onion.

Aaron: It kinda has paper around it.

Jenny: It’s a bulb.

Aaron: Look at the funny things on the bottom.

Lia: Looks like noodles.

Jenny: They’re roots.

Lia: We could put them in the ground.

The bulbs have been a big hit because they grow so fast and they get so big. We’ve been measuring them with stacking cubes and with circle stickers on strips of paper. We’ve made a chart so children can see how they grow over time. Megan had the idea of measuring a plant with her body and lots of children joined in. (“It’s higher than my ankle.” “Now it’s almost up to my knee.”)

Terry’s Journal

Terry kept a journal of her children plant explorations. Here are some excerpts.

April 2

I uprooted one of the onion bulbs we had planted and laid it on a tray so children could see how the roots had grown underground.

“Tell me about what you see,” I said as the children gathered around.

“Roots,” everyone chimed in.

“Why do you think plants have roots anyway?” I asked.

Jenny said, “They need roots to grow.”

“What else do plants need to grow?” I asked.

Ben said, “Water.” (He’s always the first to volunteer to water the plants.)

Moustafa said, “The roots are like straws that drink the water. It’s like their mouth!”

April 5

I brought in different kinds of citrus fruit—oranges, grapefruit, and limes. Then I cut them open and the children looked at the different parts—the seeds, the sections, the pulp, and the skin. We talked about how they’re alike (“They all have seeds”) and how they’re different (“The skin has different colors”). Now we’re going to let the seeds dry out and plant them. I wonder if any of them will grow.


Prepare To Teach

Prepare To Teach


  • Use the Curriculum Planner to familiarize yourself with the full three-week curriculum. Click on the activities to access them online or print the planner for offline use.
  • Then roll up your sleeves and explore some of the same hands-on activities your children will try during the curriculum.
  • Review the Using Media sections for tips on reading books, watching videos, and playing online games together.

Indoor Plants

Planting a variety of seeds and bulbs helps children explore what plants need to grow and to notice similarities and differences among plants. Children will grow seeds and bulbs both in soil and in plastic baggies so they can watch the seedlings as they grow.

Before you explore planting with the children, plant a few seeds yourself and observe how they grow.

The seeds and bulbs used in these activities grow quickly, giving children plenty to observe. After the seeds and bulbs have sprouted, place the plants in a warm, sunny spot so the seedlings can continue to grow.

  • Kidney and lima beans are a nice size for little hands. Soak the dry beans in water overnight and they will sprout in two to four days and poke through the soil in about one week.
  • Grass seeds will sprout in two to three days.
  • Green onions grow quickly. Stems can get to be one foot tall after a week.
  • Alfalfa or clover sprouts are soaked in water, then strained and rinsed twice a day. They should be ready to eat within four to five days.

Outdoor Plants

Head outside. Bring a magnifying glass, a peeled crayon, some paper, and a hula hoop or 4-foot piece of string with the ends tied together.

Look Down at the Ground

  1. Walk around outdoors. Look for grass or small plants growing in unusual places, such as sidewalk cracks. Where are some good, safe places to take your children for outdoor plant study? (Note the Outdoor Safety tips.)
  2. Bend down to take a closer look. Are all the plants the same? Are some of them different? What do their leaves look like? What colors are the stems and leaves?
  3. Describe the leaves’ sizes, shapes, textures, colors. How might you use this activity to build children’s descriptive vocabulary?
  4. Look at the plants through a magnifying glass. Feel the top, the underside, and the edges of a leaf with your fingers. Do you notice any new details?
  5. Place the hula hoop or circle of string on the ground. Get down low and look at the different plants growing inside the circle. Do any of the plants have buds or flowers? Use your magnifying glass to investigate more closely.

Look Up at the Trees

  1. Trunk Size: Choose several trees to examine. How big is each trunk? Can you reach your arms around it? How else might you and your children measure and compare the circumference of trees? How could you chart their measurements?
  2. Bark: What color is the bark? Look at it with your magnifying glass. Feel the texture. If it is shaggy or bumpy, hold a piece of paper against the tree and use the side of a peeled crayon to do a bark rubbing.
  3. Branches: Can you reach any of the branches? Look at the place where a branch comes out of the trunk. Is the bark any different in that spot?
  4. Roots: Feel the roots at the base of the tree. Can you tell how far the roots go? Have they caused cracks in the pavement? Go for a walk looking for interesting roots or evidence of roots (cracks in pavement). Can you tell which tree the roots are from?
  5. Leaves: Does the tree have needles or leaves? How would you describe the color, shape, size, and texture? Use your magnifying glass to look at the top, underside, and edges of a leaf.
  6. Buds: Are there any buds on the tree? If so, do you think they are leaf buds or flower buds?
  7. The Ground: Look on the ground around the tree for leaves, needles, twigs, pieces of bark, nuts, seed pods, or pine cones. You may want to collect some of these to use with children.


Food Safety

  • Check with parents and guardians in advance about children's food allergies and sensitivities. Children will be sampling peas, root and leaf vegetables, different fruits, alfalfa or clover sprouts, and sunflower seeds over the course of the curriculum.
  • Be sure children only eat or taste seeds when you tell them to.
  • Have them wash their hands before and after each activity.

Outdoor Safety

Check the areas where you will take children. Look out for:

  • Traffic
  • Glass and other litter
  • Poison ivy and other plants that can cause rashes
  • Stinging nettles and bushes with thorns

Be sure to tell children not to touch or eat any plants without first asking an adult.

Respect the Environment

Helping your children learn to respect the environment is an important part of plant study. Collecting parts of plants that have fallen on the ground is fine, but children should not break off bark, twigs, leaves, or flowers. This can hurt or kill a plant.

Using Media: Books

A few tips for reading aloud to your children.

  • Read the book several times before sharing it with children. Mark the places where you would like to pause to ask questions or explain unfamiliar words.
  • Talk about the cover. Point out the title, author, and illustrator. Look at and talk about the art.
  • Ask children to predict what might happen in the story.
  • Read the story with the children once without stopping so children can follow the story. Then read through and ask questions.
  • Read slowly so children can understand and enjoy the rhythm of the words and explore the pictures.
  • Hold the book so that everyone can see it.
  • Add drama to your reading by using different voices and simple props. Don’t be afraid to be silly or dramatic.
  • After reading the story, ask some open-ended questions (questions that don’t have a yes or no answer) that will help children think about, remember, and discuss the story later.

Using Media: Videos

  • Help children think and talk about what they are watching by encouraging active viewing.
  • Watch the video ahead of time so you’re familiar with it. 
  • Before viewing, tell children something about the story to capture their interest and to introduce unfamiliar words and ideas.
  • While viewing, show children that you are engaged by focusing intently, laughing, showing amazement or surprise.     
  • After viewing, ask open-ended questions, such as,
    • How long did Peep have to wait for the sunflower to grow? Why was waiting so hard for Peep?
    • Have you ever seen a sunflower? Can you describe what it looked like?
  • When children watch the live-action videos, which feature children exploring science, ask questions comparing their experiences to the children in the video:
    • How was your bean experiment like the one the children in the video tried? How was it different?   

Screen Time for Children 

Research has shown that technology and interactive media can enhance early learning. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Fred Rogers Center state that "technology and interactive media are tools that can promote effective learning and development when they are used intentionally by early childhood educators.”  

This curriculum uses nine-minute animated PEEP episodes, one-and-a-half-minute live-action videos, and online science games as a springboard for discussion about science with children. All videos were vetted by early childhood education experts and are presented in the context of a lesson plan that promotes active viewing.

After children have watched and discussed the videos as part of the curriculum, this media is made available to them in a learning center. Based on NAEYC recommendations, the Technology Center should only be available to children older than two years.