Studying and comparing different vegetable and edible flower seeds - nature study activity for kids.
This year the kids and I decided to try our hand at growing our own food. Jewel, my eldest daughter, has declared she wants to be a farmer when she grows up (just one of her many ambitions), so I thought this would be a great way to introduce some early farming concepts. It’s also a great way for kids to learn about the plant life cycle and where our food comes from.
We decided to try growing from seed, as this is the start of the plant life cycle. Ideally we’d like to harvest our own seeds later on, so we can plant them again and see the full cycle in action!
In the meantime, we bought some seed packets that we thought would be impressive to grow, tasty to eat, and able to withstand our harsh Australian summer sun. We chose mostly vegetables, but Jewel also insisted on a few flowers - so we compromised and chose two edible flower varieties!
But before we planted them, I thought this would be a good opportunity to study and compare them. My girls hadn’t really come across many garden seeds before, and certainly hadn’t had a good look up close!
I set out seeds on two trays (one for each of my daughters), along with seed packets, magnifying glasses, paper and pencils as an invitation to explore, and then let the girls decide what exactly they’d like to do with these materials.
My 6.5 year old daughter Jewel found the ‘invitation’ first, and decided to compare the seeds according to visual characteristics. She referred to the seed packets to help her with spelling, and wrote down which seeds she thought were the longest, biggest, roundest, etc.
She declared that the corn seeds were the biggest, marigold the longest, nasturtium the fattest, carrot the smallest, radish the roundest, and parsley the pointiest.
So awesome to see her combine combination of science, literacy and maths in the one self-directed activity!
As an extension, I suggested she could rank all the seeds according to each characteristic (ie corn seeds are the biggest, nasturtiums the next biggest…), but she wasn’t interested in that at this time. (Perhaps she’ll do this next time…) For now, she was more interested in labelling each seed according to their one distinguishable characteristic.
Jewel and I discussed how different the seeds look, and how a seed’s appearance doesn’t necessarily indicate what the final plant will look like. A marigold seed looks nothing like a nasturtium seed, even though they are both flowers.
A little while later, my 4 year old daughter, Bumble Bee, stumbled across the invitation and took a different approach. The seeds on her tray were all jumbled up by this point, and so she enjoyed studying them and sorting them into their different piles. She wanted to label her piles, so we decided to write plant names onto coloured craft sticks, which could double as seed markers when we plant them later on.
We’re very excited to be planting these seeds, and look forward to watching them grow!
For more nature activities, check out our Nature Study Projects for Kids page, including:
- the classic colour changing flowers experiment, to learn about transpiration, or how plants transport water through their stems.
- What lives in dirt? A fun, explorative and sensory, science activity for preschoolers.
- Tracing the veins of a leaf - a fun autumn science / STEAM activity for kids.
And, of course, you can always subscribe to our newsletter, to receive all our latest activities via email. We’d love to have you join us!
How to make a paper plate ladybird (or ladybug) craft, with hidden wings! We made 3 versions, for 3 different ladybird species. Fun nature science craft project.
Did you see the paper plate ladybird life cycle craft that I shared last week? (If not, you can check it out here). My daughter and I made it to celebrate the loveliness of ladybirds that appear in our backyard each spring and summer. (Loveliness is the collective noun for a group of ladybirds - isn’t that the coolest thing ever!!)
(Oh, and in case you’re wondering, ladybird, ladybug and lady beetle are all the same animal - they just have different names in different countries. Technically they are called coccinellids, but I’ve never heard anyone actually call them that. We call them ladybirds in Australia, so hence why I’m calling them that here…)
Anyway back to the story. Shortly afterwards, my daughter found another species of ladybird at a nearby park!! This one was orange and black, and had v shaped markings on it’s back (which, as we’ve since discovered, is a type of ladybird called a Transverse Ladybird). She brought it home to show me.
And so, of course, this got us thinking about different types of ladybirds, the anatomy of ladybirds, what each species eats, where they live, etc.
Here’s a fantastic website that delves into basic ladybird anatomy. Did you know that a ladybird ‘shell’ is actually called the elytra, and underneath the elytra, there is a hidden set of wings?
We decided to make a ladybird craft, for three different species of ladybirds:
- the orange and black Transverse Ladybird with v shaped markings, which my daughter Bumble Bee found in the park that morning,
- the yellow and black Fungus-eating Ladybird with zigzag markings, which are the ladybirds we often find in our own backyard,
- the red and black Seven-spot Ladybird, also known as the Seven-spotted Ladybug, which has three spots on each side and one spot in the middle. This is the most common ladybird in Europe, and is the ladybird we most often see children’s picture books.
This is a fun craft idea that uses common craft supplies and other everyday items.
Preschoolers will enjoy learning generally about ladybirds, and should be able to help paint the paper plates (with an adult assisting with the rest of the craft). Kindergarteners may be able to do more of the craft themselves, and learn about basic insect anatomy. Older kids may enjoy researching ladybirds in more detail, including variations between different ladybird species, their markings, their habitats, their diet, etc.
Bumble Bee had just turned 4 years old when we did this activity. She enjoyed painting the paper plates, and “helping” me with the rest of the craft. She also enjoyed learning about the various ladybirds that we’ve come across, and their basic anatomy. Plus she really enjoyed role-playing with her new ladybird toys afterwards!
How to make a paper plate ladybird craft
- 9″ Paper plates
- Acrylic paint & paint brushes
- 6mm pipe cleaners (aka chenille stems)
- Bump pipe cleaners (optional)
- Kids clear-drying liquid glue or double-sided tape
- Split pins (aka paper fasteners)
- Plastic bag
- Skewer or a knife with a sharp point (to create holes for the antenna and split pins)
The first thing we did was to look at our real life samples of ladybirds (for the fungus-eating ladybird and the transverse ladybird), and look online (for the seven-spot ladybird) to get an idea of their basic shape, colours and markings.
We noticed that each ladybird has a head with two antenna, a section just behind the head (the pronotum), a body with brightly coloured elytra, and three tiny legs on each side. We noticed that the elytra is symmetrical - with exactly the same markings appearing on each side. We also noticed that ladybirds have hidden wings, that are folded away under the elytra when a ladybird is not flying.
We used two paper plates to make each of our ladybirds.
We painted the underside of the first paper plate black, and set aside to dry. This would become the ladybird body.
We cut the second paper plate like this below, to create a head, and the two sides of the elytra, or shell.
(If you were doing this with older kids, you might like to add more detail to the head area, adding in the eyes, the mouth and the pronotum.)
We referenced our real and online ladybirds to see what colours and patterns to paint. We painted the underside again (which creates a doming effect, making our ladybirds look slightly 3D).
While we waited for the paper plates to dry, we cut two long wings from a plastic bag - roughly twice the length of the ladybird’s body.
We also cut one regular black pipe cleaner into six small pieces, which would become the legs, and a second black “bump” pipe cleaner into two pieces, which would become the antenna.
(We used bump pipe cleaners because we had them already and they look cool! But you could use regular pipe cleaners for the antenna too if you want).
Once the paper plates were dry, we glued the head to the body. I poked two holes though, so we could add the antenna, twisting into little knots at each end to stop them slipping back out (and to make cute knobbly antenna ends!)
We stapled the six legs to the sides of the body as well. (Bee loves stapling, so she really enjoyed that part!)
Next we glued the plastic wings to just below the head. (You could use double sided sticky tape here instead if you prefer).
Then we attached the two elytra pieces on top, attaching with a split pin. I used a knife with a sharp point to create the holes, before pushing the split pins through and fastening underneath. Here’s how it looks on the underside.
When we flipped it back over, we could now choose whether to fold the wings neatly underneath if we were pretending our ladybird was walking, or rotate the elytra slightly and release the wings if we were pretending our ladybird was flying.
Fun Science Facts
Coccinellidae is a widespread family of tiny beetles, known as ladybugs in North America, and ladybirds in Australia, UK and other areas.
Entomologists prefer to use the term ladybird beetles or lady beetles, because technically they’re not actually classified a ‘true bugs’.
A bug, as it turns out, is a technical term which describes insects that have sucking, beak-like mouth parts. Bugs also have an incomplete metamorphosis life cycle - meaning they go from egg to nymph to adult with no larva stage. Aphids, cicadas, bedbugs are all true bugs. Beetles are not.
Beetles are a group of insects whose front wings have hardened into wing-cases, elytra, distinguishing them from most other insects. They are the largest order of insects: roughly 400,000 species make up about 40% of all insect species described, and about 25% of all animals - wow! Most beetles undergo complete metamorphosis, passing through four main stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult.
More light reading: A Bug Is Not A Beetle (American Scholar)
If you’re looking for more fun activities like this, check out our Biology archives, including:
- Ladybird life cycle craft - learning about complete metamorphosis,
- Corroborree frog craft - learning about this critically endangered animal and the conservation efforts to save it.
- What lives in dirt? - Explorative science in the backyard.
And, of course, you can always subscribe to our newsletter, to receive all our latest activities straight in your Inbox. We’d love to have you join us!
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Not all ladybirds are red & spotty! Learn about metamorphosis and the life cycle of this cool yellow & black ladybird beetle. Fun spring nature study craft for kids.
This spring we’ve been inundated with ladybirds (or ladybugs or ladybeetles as you might call them). Except that our ladybirds are not red, and they aren’t spotty!
The ladybirds in our backyard are always yellow and black, and they have a cool mask / zigzag pattern on their back instead of spots.
My 4 year old daughter Bumble Bee is obsessed with insects and entomology. So of course, these yellow and black ladybirds presented the perfect opportunity to learn more!
But first - can I tell you the most adorable thing? I just found out that a group of ladybirds is called a “loveliness of ladybirds” or a “loveliness of ladybugs”. Isn’t that so sweet! We have a loveliness of ladybirds in our backyard.