Think spring with seed starting activities

Head off spring fever by introducing green sprouts into your classroom.

It is that time of winter when Michiganders begin to crave fresh green growth and the feeling of the warm sun on our faces. In some parts of the state the winter continues to drag on, yet we find ourselves searching for tiny tree buds or evidence of plant shoots emerging from the ground (even if it is still covered in snow).

In the classroom, students feel the same cramped up energy from spending most of their time inside for several months. One way to collectively alleviate some of the cooped-up tension is to plan seed starting activities for your students. On the light side, these starts can be a strategy to get back in touch with greenery before spring has truly sprung. From a production framework, the starts could be used in the school garden once the weather is suitable for that transition. Regardless, introducing the smell of potting mix and observing the process of a seed sprouting will bring refreshment to school staff and students alike as the countdown until spring continues. From a practical standpoint, these activities can be used to meet educational standards for each grade level, including the Next Generation Science Standards.

Many older school buildings throughout Michigan are lucky to have greenhouses attached, which are perfect for this type of activity. If the greenhouse is not currently being used, an assessment of its condition is advisable. Ensuring that there is some air circulation and at least a moderate level of cleanliness will aid in keeping seed starts alive by lessening the risk for disease introduction. For specific questions and recommendations, contact your local Michigan State University Extension office for advice. Using the greenhouse environment will allow your class to experience a change of setting, some warmer temperatures and gain agricultural and food related experience, even if it is casual.

For schools that do not have greenhouses, a low-tech solution is starting seeds on a classroom windowsill or using fluorescent lights if the classroom does not have windows. Having the seed starts in the classroom offers students a chance to track the plants’ progress from day to day and encourages regular care throughout the week since they are in sight.

There are many considerations to follow when starting seeds specific to both seed needs and working with students, particularly younger students. A few key considerations adapted from this Indoor Seed Starting Q&A resource at, are below. For a much more extensive list of recommendations, visit the resource linked above.

  • Use shallow seed starting vessels with drainage holes. These can range from transplant production trays to egg cartons or individual yogurt cups. Just ensure that whatever container you use has holes to allow the water to pass through the bottom.
  • Soilless transplant mix is preferable to soil, as it is specifically designed for starting seeds, lessening the risk of weeds sprouting and disease introduction.
  • Start with moist soil and maintain a regular watering schedule for the seed starts. Misting the starts will help maintain the seed placement, rather than using a watering can or bottle.
  • Plant the seeds according to the instructions on the seed packet, paying attention to seed depth.
  • Establish a planting area in your classroom (or elsewhere), using plastic or another covering to minimize the mess.
  • Consider using age appropriate seed sizes. For instance, bigger seeds for younger students, like beans.

Remember, anyone can do these activities. Regardless of what facilities, equipment or resources are available to you at your school, there is a wide spectrum of how seed starting activities can look. If paying for resources is an issue at your school, consider requesting donations from home and garden stores because many are willing to provide assistance to area schools.

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