Gardening Messy Play Kit Guide
Ready to dig into your Gardening Messy Play Kit? On this page you'll find detailed step-by-step instructions, ideas to extend the learning, and some links to other resources. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about your kit. Now go get messy!
Grow a Grass Head Creature:
1. Place the peat pellets in a bowl with 1 cup of water. They will absorb the water and expand rapidly. Add more water if necessary (you want them as full as possible) and remove and discard the outer layer of mesh.
2. Once the pellets are fully hydrated, add in the grass seed and use a spoon to throughly mix together.
3. Hold open the caterpillar fabric and carefully spoon the dirt and grass seed into it, pushing the dirt all the way to the end of the caterpillar. Note: the dirt will drip in this step.
|TIP: Placing the caterpillar inside a toilet paper roll can help here- use the tube to help hold the fabric open.|
4. Carefully tie a knot in the end of the caterpillar as close to the dirt as possible. You want the grass seed and dirt as snug as possible inside the caterpillar.
5. Decorate! Use the pipe cleaners (in the decorations) to tie the caterpillar into segments, and the other decorations as you wish. Add googly eyes at the front of the caterpillar, or all over for a sillier creature. Use the glue dots to attach the decorations onto the caterpillar.
|TIP: Note: if you have a glue gun, that will be easier than the glue dots here, but have an adult do this part with the child choosing where to place the pieces.|
6. Place the caterpillar creature on a plate and add water. Place in a sunny spot. If you keep watering it regularly, you’ll see sprouts coming up in about one week, and the grass should last about 7 weeks!
What are they learning?
- Fine Motor Control: Allow them to help as much as possible with stretching the caterpillar, scooping the dirt, and tying the knot. That builds their confidence and self-help skills too.
- Creativity: They get to choose which decoration pieces to use and how, in order to create the creature of their dreams. That’s a powerful feeling!
- Science: This is a very concrete way for children to learn about the growing process. Talk about what is happening, and why the seeds are growing. They needed dirt (nutrients), water, and sunshine.
- Extend this learning by documenting the growing process- make a chart and document what you see every day. Measure how tall the grass is each day, and make predictions for how much it will grow overnight, or how tall it will be before it stops growing.
Clean Dirt & Grass:
1. Make the “clean dirt”: Empty the bag of baking soda into a large bowl. Cut the tip off the pipette of liquid watercolor and empty the contents into the bowl. Mix in 1/4-1/2 cup of water. Add a little bit at a time, finding a consistency you like (similar to dirt). Mix slowly so you don’t stir up dust.
2. Empty the bag of yarn out onto your work surface. Add the baking soda dirt.
3. Add the insects and dig around! You can try adding water to the yarn to make it extra grass-like too!
Some bugs live underground in tunnels. Can you make a tunnel in the dirt? Can you help camouflage the creatures with the dirt? Can you camouflage part of your body?
|Tip: For a full body sensory experience, play with this in the bathtub. Baking soda is a cleaning agent, so as you play you will even be cleaning the tub! (Not recommended for sensitive skin) Everything except the insects can go right down the drain when you’re done!|
|Tip: Combine both the yarn and clean dirt in a dry bathtub. Make a “small world” full of bugs and creatures. Paint the bottom of the tub brown with the dirt, and use the yarn as grass on top. Move the animals around their “world” as they would normally move!|
What are they learning?
- Fine Motor Control: Anytime they are using the muscles in their hand to manipulate materials (squishing pretend dirt, building with playdough, squeezing pipettes), children are developing their fine motor skills. This will help them learn to hold a pencil properly, among other things.
- Connection with nature: There are numerous benefits to connecting children with nature, and the website for this Messy Play Kit includes links to many articles discussing those benefits. One thing you can do with this activity is to rephrase the way you may react to bugs and insects in front of your children. Think about how your reaction may instill in them a love for, or fear of, those creatures. Do you scream when you see a spider? Shiver in disgust from a snake? Those creatures are in these kits for a reason! Model interacting with the pretend creatures to help your children develop a love for their natural world, and visit the website for more information on this topic!
- Pretend Play: If you turn your bathtub into a “small world” of bugs and insects, you open up the door to a whole new type of play. This can be challenging and fun for both children and adults- often adults have a hard time shutting off their “adult brains” and playing with children. Try asking them open-ended questions, such as “what would the world look like if you were as small as a bug?” Or make comments such as “I wonder…” Dramatic play can be very engaging, and is a great way to develop children’s sense of curiosity, creativity, problem-solving skills, and much more.
1. Set one of the the white pieces of paper on your workspace. This will be the playground base.
2. Using the colorful papers, cut out various shapes angle them onto the white piece of paper. You can try to make them resemble real playground equipment, like a slide, or swings, or monkey bars, or you can make up your own! Try to build the playground as 3 dimensional if you can, meaning the playground equipment sticks up off the ground. Use the glue stick to attach them, or add tape if that’s easier for you (tape not included in the kit).
3. Get as creative and/or realistic as you want! You can even try to make the playground equipment fit the specific bugs that are included in your kit for an extra challenge. Use the extra paper to make another, or combine into a giant one!
(Above photos are credit of Joelle Imholte - Chippewa Middle School, 6th Grade: BUG PLAYGROUNDS. Look closely as they are photos of multiple projects together, but you can see how many different things you can build here!)
4. When you’re done, add the pretend bugs and see how they enjoy the playground you built for them! You can even set it outside and see if any real bugs come to explore!
|Tip: Visit a real playground and bring art supplies to sketch some of the playground equipment. Use this to help bring those pieces to life with paper!|
|For some inspiration, check out the art in Dr. Suess’s books: he’s known for having some whacky creations. For real life inspiration, check out Gaudi’s architecture in Barcelona (look online for photos). Look at photos of Parque Güell, a real park that he designed that has some very bizarre and wonderful features!|
What are they learning?
- Fine Motor Control: using scissors and trying to create specific things out of paper takes a tremendous amount of fine motor control and hand-eye coordination!
- Creativity: they can create whatever real or fictional playground pieces they want! They are only limited by what they can physically do or what they can imagine.
- Spatial Awareness: building 3D models is tricky, and involves having to think about things in a very different way. It’s really great practice for kids.
- Emotion Regulation: this activity can be frustrating for some children, who struggle with creating the pieces they see in their minds. If that happens, help your children take breaks, and remember that this is just a silly activity that’s meant to be fun. Do you have other art supplies that can help them achieve their goals? Try not to build the creations for them, but offer your support in other ways (can you help hold it while they glue, can you help gather other useful supplies?). When they’re done, they may feel proud of what they have accomplished. It’s very rewarding when you can make your mental creations come to life!
More Gardening Play!
There are so many ways to continue playing with and learning about gardens and the creatures in them. Here are some of my favorites.
- Check out my Insect Themed Activities Pinterest Board.
- Go on a bug treasure hunt! Take a magnifying glass and go explore your neighborhood. Where could you look for bugs? How can you find them? What types do you think you'll find? Remember not to touch anything- we don't want to hurt them, just look. A good lesson on self-restraint and cooperating with nature!
- "A Natural Choice: Learning Outdoors" is a short article by Lisa Hansel for NAEYC's Young Children Magazine includes links to other great articles that can be very informative about the benefits for young children of getting outside in nature!
- This book excerpt definitely makes me want to read more, but even the excerpt itself is educational. Adapted from "Experiencing Nature With Young Children: Awakening Delight, Curiosity, and a Sense of Stewardship" by Alice Sterling Honig. My favorite part is when she talks about how similar plants, animals, and people are: "We all need similar things, such as food, fresh air, water, and exercise, to keep us healthy, and we depend on each other in different ways. When children experience the links between themselves and the world around them...they begin to develop a passion for helping nature thrive."
- If you still aren't convinced on the benefits of getting outside, read this article from Mercury News about how outdoor play can boost attention span and other cognitive skills!
- Once you are outside, there are a few tips that can help make your interactions more positive: Check out this link from the Bambinis blog.