Bloomsbury Early Years - Explore Food And Growing Things
The Little Book of Explorations

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3-5 years

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Related Activities

Explore Food And Growing Things

An idea for exploration

by Sally Featherstone


This investigation is about food and where it comes from. Growing potatoes is a simple way to keep interest over a period, and you can introduce it simply by bringing a bag of potatoes to your setting.

What you say

Talk about the potatoes you have brought, handle them, smell them and cut some open to look inside. Ask some simple questions: Where do potatoes grow? Do they grow on trees or on a plant? Do they have leaves? How do we like to eat them?

As you talk, make an ideas map together and note what the children already know and what they want to find out. Here are some starter ideas for discussion – you will be able to think of more.

Preparing for your exploration:

  • Look carefully at your potatoes. You could give each child a potato to look at and talk about. Look at the details of the skin and the little ‘eyes’ where the shoots grow.

  • Download some photos of potatoes growing and look at these with the children, enter ‘potatoes growing photos’ in Google and download or print some of plants and growing shoots as well as harvested potatoes.

  • Cut some of the remaining potatoes in half and look inside.

  • Now ask the children if they would like to grow their potato into a new potato plant. What do the children think you need? They may suggest some of these:

    • Soil or earth

    • Pots or other containers

    • Water

    • Trowels or spades

  • You will also need:

    • Empty egg boxes to put the potatoes in to start them off. This is called ‘chitting’.

    • A grow bag or some cheap buckets, big plastic plant pots or plastic boxes. Our method uses buckets; but a grow bag is fine; a cheap, clean way of managing compost which has room for plenty of potatoes.

    • You will also need some more compost to cover the shoots as they grow. This is called ‘earthing up’.

    • A camera.

  • Before you start to grow your potatoes, take some photos and let the children draw or paint pictures of their own potato, so they can record the growth.

Stage 1 – Chitting the potatoes

  • When the children have looked at and recorded their first look at potatoes, talk about what you need to do to start the potatoes growing. Help them to put each potato in a space in an egg box. If they want to name their own potato, ask them for ideas of how they could do this.

  • Leave the potatoes somewhere light and warm for about ten days, checking them every day. They will soon start to grow shoots from the ‘eyes’ in their skins.

While you wait:

  • Take time every day to watch what is happening to the potatoes.

  • You can handle the potatoes gently but make sure the children know that they are growing, and the shoots will break very easily.

  • Talk about the shoots and how they are growing up towards the light.

More about potatoes and simple cooking:

  • While the potatoes are growing their shoots, you can start to find out more about potatoes. You could:

    • Read some stories about potatoes.

    • Use some real potatoes to play and sing ‘One Potato, Two Potato’.

    • Use potatoes to make potato soup, mashed potatoes or simple oven potato crisps.

    • Make some jacket potatoes or oven chips for snack time.

    • Make this edible potato play dough, which is easy enough for children to help with. To make enough dough for a group, you need:

      • 20 large potatoes

      • 6 medium eggs

      • 6 cups of self raising flour.

      • Wash, peel, and grate the RAW potatoes and put in a bowl. Add the other ingredients and mix well to make a firm dough. Pat or roll with clean hands and make into shapes or patties. Put on a greased baking sheet and cook in a hot oven for 30-45 minutes until golden brown.

Stage 2 – Planting the potatoes

  • In about ten to fourteen days the potatoes should have grown strong, firm shoots and will be ready for planting.

  • You need some cheap buckets and something sharp to make holes in the bottom of each one for drainage.

  • The potatoes need to finish growing in a bright place outside, but you will need to bring them in if there is a frost or to protect them from other damage.

  • Fill the buckets two-thirds full with compost (or the contents of a grow bag) and let each child plant their own potato by pressing it gently into the soil with the shoots pointing up. You should be able to get between three and five potatoes in each bucket, so make sure you buy enough buckets!

  • Cover the potatoes, filling the bucket nearly to the top with compost.

  • It’s a good idea to plant an extra bucket so you can dig some up to look at as they grow.

  • Keep the buckets damp, water them if it doesn’t rain, but don’t water too much or the potatoes will rot.

  • Take photos of each stage of this planting activity.

Stage 3 – Watching the potatoes

  • Watch your potatoes as they grow, taking photos, drawing pictures, and talking about them as they grow stems, leaves and flowers. If you gently dig up a potato plant you will see the roots, and eventually you will see tiny tubers growing among the roots.

  • Once the potatoes have flowered, the leaves will begin to shrivel and go brown. STOP watering now, and wait two weeks for the potatoes to finish growing.

Stage 4 – Harvesting the potatoes

  • Your potatoes should now be ready to harvest. Let the children dig up their own potatoes and look at what they have grown!

Helpful Hints

  • Help the children to weigh the potatoes.

  • Invent a dance based on the idea of a growing potato plant.

  • Talk about how you could cook the potatoes and eat them. The potatoes will taste wonderful if you just wash them and boil them, but you could make potato cakes or oven chips.

  • Make some of your photos into displays, books or PowerPoint presentations so children can sequence and recall the experience.

  • Get parents involved in planting bulbs and seeds for next year.

Helpful Hints

  • Provide the equipment for role-play cooking or shopping with potatoes (your own or a new bag from the shop).

  • Provide child size (but real) garden tools, a place to dig and some seeds to plant.

  • Offer some potatoes and objects to press in to make a Mr or Mrs Potato Head.

  • Offer books and songs about growing things, gardens and food to catch children’s interests.

  • Add some plant, seed and bulb catalogues to your print resources. Let the children choose some bulbs or seeds to order, or just cut out the pictures for home made books and collages.

Ready for more?

  • Provide pots, compost and some different seeds for planting in containers or in your garden. Lettuce, carrots, radishes all grow quickly and are fairly reliable. If you haven’t got a garden, grow cress in containers or beans in jars.

  • Visit a garden centre and look at food plants such as fruit trees, strawberry plants, or beans and peas.

  • Make a garden centre role-play area in your setting with real or pretend flowers and plants.

  • Plant containers and hanging baskets with vegetables or colourful annual plants to brighten up your setting and maintain the children’s interest in gardening.

  • Make gardening part of your planning every month and every year.

Stories, songs and rhymes

  • Oliver’s Vegetables; Vivian French; Hodder

  • Eddie’s Garden; Sarah Garland; Frances Lincoln

  • Jim and the Beanstalk; Puffin; Raymond Briggs

  • How a Seed Grows; Helene Jordan; Collins

  • Potatoes; Joyce Bentley; Chrysalis

  • Potatoes (Grow Your Own); Helen Lanz; Franklin Watts

  • Eating Fruit and Vegetables; Claire Llewellyn; Collins

  • Grow it, Eat it; Dorling Kindersley

  • Grow it, Cook it with Kids; Amanda Grant; Ryland, Peters and Small

  • The Enormous Potato; Aubrey Davis; Kids Can Press

Look, listen and note

  • Answer 'how' and 'why' questions

  • Handle equipment and tools effectively including pencils for writing

  • People and communities (ELG13) Family members Communities & traditions

  • Work as part of a group

  • Animals and plants

  • Creating and Telling Stories

Where to go next: Explore minibeasts
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