Here’s a simple and inexpensive DIY project that’ll help interested kids learn about plants, hone observation skills, and practice being a caretaker. I picked up the sweet potatoes for this project at the grocery store for a dollar something a pound–everything else was readily available around Explorations Early Learning Intergalactic Headquarters.
- Sweet potatoes
- Kitchen knife
- Cutting board
- Potting soil
Start by slicing your sweet potato. The number of slices you make will depend on its size. I cut my two potatoes into thirds. This is something an appropriately supervised child can handle with ease–knowing how to use a knife responsibly is a valuable skill.
Next, plop the slices on a plate and set them aside for a few days to allow them to dry out a bit. This gives the cuts a chance to scab over and will help prevent rot.
Now, poke three toothpicks into the upper third of a slice as shown in the photos below. This will allow you to suspend the slice in water while it roots.
Set the impaled slice into the glass and add water.
Set the container in a warm sunny location. As the slice roots, the only thing you really need to do care-wise is keep an eye on the water level. Just assure the lower portion of the slice is always submerged.
It’s now time to watch for changes in your sweet potato slice that will eventually turn into roots and leaves.
After roots develop, carefully remove the toothpicks and transplant your baby sweet potato into a pot with a standard potting soil mix. I waited until the roots were 3 or 4 inches long. This is another great time for observation and conversation.
Place the plant in a sunny location, keep it watered, and the plant should thrive. As it grows, continue talking with interested children about how the plant changes over time.
I’d like to wrap up with a note about participation.
I recommend avoiding forced-participation in projects like this. It’s cool if some kids would rather paint or play with blocks while you’re slicing sweet potatoes with other kids. Invite kids to take part with something like, “I wonder if we can turn these sweet potatoes into plants? It’ll take some time, but I think we can do it. Does anyone want to give it a try? Then proceed with the kids who are interested and let the others play. Forcing participation can make the project unpleasant for everyone.
If you give this project a try, I’d love to see and hear about how it goes–share your pictures and comments below.