Snow Day Activity – Terrarium


The snow has finally arrived in our town.  Peanut and Button were chomping at the bit to go sledding, I had been scrambling to find where I “safely put away” the snow gear, and the kids got bored!  While the snow was really heavy, and given Button has only recently been cleared for snow play by his doctors, I decided to give them an activity to do to take their mind off the excitement of going outside to hurl themselves down hills.

Today became Terrarium Day!  I had been planning on creating one with the children eventually, and now was the perfect time.  A terrarium is a container, usually glass or plastic that recreates an environment or habitat for plants or small creatures.  We made a closed terrarium today, and we began by posing a question to the boys: “Do you think a plant will survive if we close up the container and never water it?  This caused a prolonged debate over what was going to happen to the plant, including Button’s argument that it was cruel to kill a plant just to see what will happen.  I was rather proud that he cared!

We finally formed a hypothesis.  The plant needed water to survive.  Peanut, having already studied the water cycle did think that condensation might lead to some kind of precipitation, but he didn’t quite know why it would happen without water being added.  So I guess the hypothesis was that the plant was going to live…somehow, but no one knew why.

How to build the terrarium:

1.  Select a plastic or glass container – we used a plastic tub with a lid that sealed tight.  The container should be transparent.

2. Place pebbles at the bottom of the container – this helps drainage.  Course sand could be used too but we had a nice collection of pebbles from the beach that we could use.  Keep pebbles fairly small.

3. Place soil on top – we used potting soil that I had in the garage.  We are not going fancy, but there are some special soils if you are growing plants like cactus.

4. Carefully add the plant – you may want to use seeds but we started with a small plant. We used Golden Pothos which is easy to pick up in any garden store.  It is supposed to be pretty hardy too…a bonus!

5. Arrangement and Ornaments – given more time, we might have had a variety of plants, a bigger container and some ornaments to adorn our terrarium.  Given that I threw this activity together in a flash, we had what was on hand (the plant came from a neighbor who was growing the plant in her house), we were going more for the science experiment look then a display.  (That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!)

Some, more advanced and less thrown together terrariums also include a layer of activated charcoal (available from any store selling aquarium supplies, as it helps filter the air.  Also a layer of Spaghnum Moss prevents the soil sinking down into the pebbles.  We had neither but, based on my attempt at this in my classroom, it should still work.
The final result was a sealed container, a little plant looking hopefully up at the boys, almost pleading to make it all work, and two kids just jumping to find out what was going to happen.  We created a quick data collection chart so we can observe the plant and the conditions inside the terrarium over the next week.  We then decided on a good location for our experiment:  the family room windowsill.  Now we just watch and wait.
What kind of learning experiences have you thrown together in a snap which have worked out successfully?  Are there any projects you loved which may take more planning but are totally worth it?  Let’s share some sanity savers for these cold months ahead!

2 comments on “Snow Day Activity – Terrarium

  1. i was going to see if you and the boys wanted to come over for homemade marshmallows, but I’m not so sure if they’ve turned out? I don’t think they were my crowning glory in the kitchen, but I’m going to give them another few hours to set….stay tuned. Otherwise, I can offer up homemade applesauce, zucchini-carrot fritters, lots of painter’s tape and toothpick + (store bought) marshmallow creations. Hope you guys have had a cozy day together. I’m pinning this idea for a future snow day!!

    • That would be fun! Good luck with setting the marshmallows..hope they turn out okay. We have had a fun day. Looks like you did too. We now have the kids bathed after finally going outside (I found everything) and they are enjoying hot chocolate with a friend. I’d say “peace at last” but they have not mastered talking below ten decibels. We will get together soon 🙂

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