Creating a classroom garden, and introducing plant life and horticulture to children, is an incredible educational opportunity and is a great way to captivate children with hands-on learning. Not only is it an engaging way to teach children about plant life cycles, botany, and ecosystems, but gardening is a skill that can serve them for the rest of their lives!
Seed companies and local garden centers are often willing to donate seeds to schools for your students’ education. Plus, research shows that working in school gardens can: increase science achievement scores, increase knowledge of nutrition, increase their willingness to eat fresh produce, improve social skills and develop a sense of responsibility, community, empathy and teamwork.
So, we have assembled a list of indoor classroom garden ideas for teachers looking to start an indoor garden with their students.
1. Mini Greenhouse
A mini greenhouse is a great, hands-on way for kids to learn about the greenhouse effect and the life cycle of plants. Kids can start seeds, and watch them sprout, have a conducive environment to clone existing plants, learn about creating microclimates and help to create an ideal atmosphere for plant growth.
The Educational Insights GreenThumb Classroom Greenhouse is a great option for bringing a mini greenhouse into your classroom.
It is a two-tiered mini greenhouse which comes complete with two sturdy wire shelves that can be assembled in minutes. The snug vinyl cover will protect your classroom plants and will allow you to create the microclimate your plants love, yet the cover can easily be tied back for convenient access to the trays, seedlings, and pots within.
This mini indoor classroom greenhouse can help you grow houseplants, herbs, flowers, vegetables and seedlings. If you create the proper microclimate, you can grow almost anything in an indoor greenhouse. But, seed starting is one of the greatest strengths of a greenhouse. Greenhouses trap the heat from the sun, or lamps, and create a humid environment that many seedlings thrive in. Beans are one of the most popular ways to teach the plant life cycle, because they are easy to start, and because you can really see their growth and progress at every step in their lifecycle.
Two great ways to keep kids engaged with greenhouses is to create a watering schedule that allows your students to take turns with the responsibility of watering the plants and using clear containers that allow them to see the roots and seedlings as they grow. Kits like the Beetle & Bee See Thru Garden View is great for that.
Be mindful of when you plan to sprout seedlings, as weekends and holiday breaks will make frequent watering a challenge. Tiny seedlings dry out quickly, and may not survive long intervals between waterings. Established plants that are well-watered and moved out of direct sunlight can generally handle weekends and shorter vacations without any issues.
Also, be sure to monitor temperatures closely, since heat and high levels of humidity can build rapidly in these small structures. Humidity is great for many plants, but can sometimes lead to fungal disease and root rot.
2. Container Garden
Another captivating, engaging way to teach children about germination, cultivation and sustainability is to create a container garden. A container garden is the practice of growing plants in containers as opposed to the ground. You can use containers to grow with hydroponics, aquaponics, or in soil.
Almost any vegetable, flower, herb, shrub, or small tree can grow successfully in a container as long as the containers are properly sized for the plants you’re growing. But the plants that are most likely to grow successfully in containers stay relatively compact. For example, bush varieties of pumpkin and squash (as opposed to the varieties that produce large, rambling vines) or tomato varieties labeled “dwarf,” “compact,” “bush,” or “determinate” will adapt most easily to containers.
When choosing plants to sprout in containers, you will need to consider the size and shape of the plant’s root system and how quickly they grow. Plants with roots that have filled up every square inch of the available space won’t grow well.
Herbs, vegetables, blueberries, marigolds, zinnias, petunias, strawflowers and dwarf fruit trees are all well known to grow well in containers.
Container gardens aren’t able to hold moisture as well as traditional gardens, and they can be prone to drying out quickly. You’ll need to check on your plants daily and water them if needed.
Some of the advantages of planting in containers is that they are fitting for a classroom with little space, the plants are mobile, and you have better control over sunlight, moisture and temperature. You can place them on the ground, on a shelf, or on a windowsill, depending on the sizes of the containers you choose.
Container gardens can create a sense of ownership among your students, as they will be taking personal responsibility for the plants they sprout within the containers they bring into your classroom to use. An exciting way to keep kids engaged with a container garden is for them to decorate their containers, and for them to be in charge of the plants they sprout within “their” container.
You can easily recycle things found within your school as a plant container. A few excellent examples are: paper towel rolls, mason jars (we have an article on using mason jars, by the way!), milk cartons, yogurt cups, egg cartons, soda bottle bottoms, and toilet paper rolls. As long as you punch drainage holes in the bottom of the containers so that water doesn’t pool around roots and they don’t become waterlogged, you are good to go.
3. Tower Garden
A tower garden is a vertical, soil-free way to grow plants. They take up minimal space, and require less resources than a traditional garden. Instead of soil, plants get their nutrients by being sprayed with a mist of water and a nutrient solution. Because it’s vertical, the kids in your class will easily be able to see everything that’s growing, and because it requires no soil, you can opt to grow plants, yet keep dirt out of your classroom.
Tower Gardens can grow hundreds of different plants. Fruits, vegetables, spices, or flowers can flourish in a tower garden. The only true exceptions are root crops (such as carrots and potatoes), vines, bushes and trees.
The 5 Tier Stackable Planter Vertical Garden is an awesome option for bringing a tower garden into your classroom. The pots can be used as five separate plant pots or they can be stacked to build a tower. The tower can even be hung. Plus, the pots come with built-in drainage grids to help deter water pooling and root rot.
Plants grown in tower gardens have been shown to grow much more rapidly than plants grown in traditional soil. This is a great way to keep kids engaged with and interested in gardening, as they won’t have to wait as long to see the results of their handiwork.
4. All-In-One Hydroponics Kit
As mentioned earlier, hydroponics is water based method of growing plants that doesn’t require soil. Aeroponics is a hydroponics method where plant roots are suspended in the air and are misted with a nutrient solution.
Plants grow bigger and faster because they do not work as hard to obtain nutrients. Instead of focusing on expanding their root system, the plants grow much larger.
The Aerogarden Harvest 360 is an excellent entry point to aeroponics, as the system requires minimal setup, and comes with the supplies (seeds and nutrient solution) to get you started. With the Aerogarden Harvest 360, you simply insert seed pods into the garden and you can grow up to 6 plants at a time. A control panel tells you when to add water, reminds you when to add plant food, and automatically turns the included LED grow lights on and off. This kit comes standard with seeds for genovese basil, curly parsley, dill, thyme, thai basil and mint, but you can also grow other herbs, bell peppers, hot peppers, cherry tomatoes, salad greens, kale, lavender, petunias, celosias and zinnias. You can use the AeroGarden to grow just about anything, at any time of the year.
Another similar option is the Click & Grow Smart Garden 3 Indoor Gardening Kit.
This system is ideal for indoor use, and is extremely easy to use. It is self-watering, lightweight, and easily portable. Just drop the plant cartridges right into the container, refill the water reservoir, plug the device in, and you are good to go! The LED technology makes the garden energy efficient and it’s perfect for basil, thyme, sage, parsley, cilantro, cherry tomatoes, rosemary, peppers, flowers. and even strawberries.
Your students will love choosing what to grow, inserting the seed pods or cartridges, refilling the water reservoirs, watching the plants grow and the sampling the herbs, fruits and veggies they grow.
5. Aquaponics Ecosystem Kit
Aquaponics refers to any system that combines conventional aquaculture with hydroponics in a symbiotic environment. It mimics a natural ecosystem by using the waste by-product from fish that is then converted into a perfect fertilizer for the plants, which clean the water for the fish. It utilizes the waste of the fish to benefit the plants.
An Aquaponic ecosystem kit is a mini aquaponics system that you can place on a counter, or tabletop. They’re perfect for a classroom, as they don’t take up much space and are a great way to teach symbiosis, and a sustainable & efficient way to grow food. Just feed your betta fish, and watch the plants on top start to grow within days.
A great option is the Back to Roots Water Garden. It is a scaled-down aquaponics system, mini-ecosystem, and self-cleaning fish tank that grows organic microgreens on top. You’ll be growing in no time, and harvesting your organic microgreens after only 10 days. Everything you need to get started raising sprouts and herbs comes included in this kit. It even comes including your fish coupon and a free downloadable online curriculum for kids about the science behind aquaponics.
Your class is sure to love experiencing the magic of growing microgreens while raising a beta fish. Not only do they get to learn about growing plants, but also about animal science, symbiosis, and how the Beta is able to coexist with the plants.
Any of these options would be an awesome asset to your classroom. All of them take up minimal space, are able to be used indoors, and are conducive for kids to contribute and learn. Whether teaching about seed sprouting, plant lifecycles, the greenhouse effect, sustainability, symbiosis, animal science, or another related subject, any of these gardens would be a great way to engage your class with hands-on learning.