Kids, Plants, and STEM

February 2023

By Brian McNeill, Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development

Plants play a crucial role in our world. They provide us with food, medicine, the air we breathe, and habitat and even impact our climate. There is evidence that shows exercising in green spaces can reduce stress and anxiety and improve your mood. With this in mind, we must provide opportunities for youth to learn to appreciate plants and the effects they have on our daily lives. 

The University of Minnesota Extension and the 4-H Youth Development program have stepped up to answer this call. In the 4-H Plant Science project area, youth have a variety of opportunities to learn about plants. New program opportunities have been offered to youth to learn and grow their interest in Plant Sciences. I would like to share a specific one with you called “4-H Science Sprouts.”

4-H Science Sprouts is a virtual opportunity for youth that engage in science and plants. This virtual opportunity provides youth with hands-on experiments to engage them in learning. We have discovered youth are willing to participate virtually as long as the topic is exciting and engaging. This virtual experience was developed to provide just that experience. 

This once-a-month program started in October and will end in March. A theme is identified for each month. The supplies and support guides are mailed to each participant before the session. Having the supplies and support guides ahead of time ensures youth can participate at their location. Content experts are identified to provide extra specialized content to the experience. Here are the months, themes, and activities:

October was about pumpkins. The youth learned about growing pumpkins and facts about pumpkins and participated in a science experiment where they made pumpkins fizz. Using vinegar and baking soda youth learn about chemical reactions.

November was all about potatoes. In this session, the youth learned about growing potatoes from a potato farmer and 4-H member in Kittson County, Minnesota. They participated in a science experiment by cutting potatoes in 1/2, connecting them with wires, and turning a light bulb turn on. The potato acts as an electrolyte enabling the electrons to flow through it. 

December youth learned about evergreen trees. They learned from an evergreen tree farmer in Stevens County what it takes to grow evergreen trees. This science experiment focused on taking evergreen branches and putting them in a variety of water to see how ph is important to grow evergreen trees. Youth discovered how different types of soil ph can affect tree growth.

January youth learned about water and how much water is in snow. They also learned about the drought and how it affects different parts of the state. The science experiment for January was taking celery and putting it in the different colored water. This process transforms the color of the celery stalks.

February youth will be learning about root beer and the process of making it. They will learn about chemical reactions and using yeast to expand a balloon.

March youth will learn about sunflowers and what it takes to grow them in Minnesota. They will learn about a challenge that will be happening across the state with growing the tallest sunflower.

This virtual program attracts over 100 youth each time they meet. Providing this type of programming has reached more youth eliminating barriers such as time, transportation, and cost. Evaluations also demonstrate the growth of learning about plants and STEM.  It’s engaging and provides youth the opportunities to learn about STEM and Plant Sciences. 

For more information about the 4-H Science Sprouts or other 4-H Plant Science opportunities, please contact Brian McNeill at [email protected] or Anja Johnson at [email protected] or the 4-H Plant Science website.