FRESHFARM's food education program in partnership with DC Public Schools

FoodPrints is an education project of FRESHFARM that integrates gardening, cooking, and nutrition education into the curriculum at partner elementary schools. Watch the FoodPrints video to see our program in action. 

More on Planting with Kids - by Barbara Percival

Remember to vote today and every day through April 27th for FoodPrints to win a Seeds of Change garden grant! You may vote once per day, per device. Please spread the word so we can advance to the next round of the competition. Thank you!

The wonderful seed tapes described by Jennifer Mampara in a recent blog post are one way of minimizing a pesky problem when kids do the planting:  how to make sure the seeds are spaced properly.  As much as we explain that the seeds need to be "so far" apart (using thumb and finger measurement), the reality is that most children have a hard time executing the concept.  "So far" becomes 60 seeds planted in the same inch -- or seeds planted every 6 inches.   Spacing is particularly difficult for little seeds, such as carrots and lettuce, which disappear into the dirt.

Students use rulers to space seeds accurately.

 So what do we do when the weather turns warm and we want to have the children enjoy putting the seeds in the dirt themselves, but don't want to spend hours thinning and/or replanting?  Over the years, we've come up with a couple of techniques that have the added benefit of incorporating math skills. 

We usually begin by asking why it's important to plant seeds the correct space apart.  Especially for the first and second graders, it is reinforcing to have 3 or 4 children act out what it might be like to try to grow if they were crowded together, and then to "grow" when they are spaced apart. 

 For the younger students (1st and 2nd grade), we generally lay out the rows first, marking each end with a plant marker, and make a shallow, narrow trench between the markers.  Then we use a permanent marker to mark a white string (clothesline cord works well) with a line where each seed will go.  (If you tie each end of the string to a wooden stake, you can easily move it from row to row and bed to bed as the classes plant).  Most children are very conscientious about placing one seed in the trench next to each line on the string. Once all the seeds have been placed in the trench, the children carefully and gently brush a thin layer of dirt over the trench and pat it down.  (It's important to see that they place the seeds first, because if they cover up the seeds as they go along they lose track very quickly). 

Using a rope marked with dots every inch, a student methodically plants seeds.

Older kids -- third grades and up -- can handle much of the measurement themselves.  If we have enough time, we can have teams of students lay out the rows themselves, which requires measurement and cooperation.  Then they lay rulers or yardsticks along the trenches and drop seeds according to the prescribed spacing -- particularly challenging it they have to count by threes or fours!  We have even had students plant both radishes and carrots in the same row -- radishes on the odd numbered inches and carrots on the even.   The radishes are ready long before the carrots, and leave enough space left for the carrots to develop. 

Now if we could just come up with a foolproof way to teach children to thin!