2. The mystery of growth

2. The mystery of growth

Suggested timing: October

Having already researched, planned, designed, and even constructed the school garden area, it’s time to start looking at the Mystery of Growth. Growth is fascinating! There are many aspects which can be studied and explored, either by individual children or as groups, with activities indoors and out.

Short film: The Mystery of Growth


By the end of this unit, you will enable children to: 

  1. Learn about the process of ‘growth’ 
  2. Research the growth of different vegetable varieties  
  3. Learn about various factors affecting growth (water, soil, light, temperature, and air) 
  4. Observe healthy growing 
  5. Learn about nutritional qualities of different vegetables 
  6. Plan what vegetables to grow in the garden 

1. What is 'growth'?

Growth is not just a simple process of getting bigger. As well as growing upwards, or outwards, or downwards (in the roots), plants will also change their appearance – the shape and colour of the leaves, producing buds and flowers, flowers producing fruits and seeds.  It is important that we look closely at how plants grow and how they change so that we can begin to understand how best to look after them. 

Activity 1A: The meaning of 'growth'

Encourage the children to share their ideas of ‘growth.’ They might refer to one dimension (for example length), or may use simple words to talk about relative sizes (bigger than; smaller than; medium). 

Useful resources

2. Types of plant growth

Plant growth differs in a few ways, including: 

  • Various shapes and sizes 
  • Differences across plant types, and sometimes within the same group of plants 
  • Changes across the stages of development of each individual plant 

So, different plants can grow taller or smaller, wider or narrower, straighter or in a wonky shape! 

Activity 2A: Research different plants

Children can research different types of plants on the Internet and select examples of different shapes. They can categorize and sort the different shapes or discuss how the different shapes can help each plant type to survive. 

Activity 2B: Discuss different plant types

Children may be encouraged to observe and discuss the various differences (including by comparing anatomy, structure, and uses) between plant types: 

  • Root vegetables (for example carrots or parsnips)  
  • Tubers (for example potatoes) 
  • Herbs (for example parsley or coriander)  
  • Other plants (for example other vegetables including salad vegetables like lettuce, or cabbage, or kale)  
  • Flowers  
Useful resources

3. Seasonality and growing environments

Plant growth is affected by environmental conditions. All plants have preferred growing environments, but can adjust to some change - even the same plant can grow very differently in different places. 

Activity 3A: Explore seasonality of fruit around the world

It is important to understand something about seasonality. This can be done by looking at what fruits are available in the supermarkets at different times of the year, and what countries they come from. This can then be compared with the availability of fruit and vegetables in the UK using, for example, the guide produced by the BDA (see Useful Resources). Children can then discuss the pros and cons of the global supply of fruit and vegetables and link it with sustainability and the concept of food miles (see Useful Resources – The facts about food miles).  

Activity 3B: Observe and map the growing preferences of local plants

Outside, children can make use of their senses to find out more about environmental conditions in the places where plants, herbs and vegetables are growing. Using symbols, they can map areas of hot & cold; windy & sheltered; dark & light and record what types of plants they find (see Useful Resources - Sensory Mapping). 

Useful resources

4. Healthy growth

Healthy growth is affected by light, water and soil - plants adopt different strategies to make the most of light, to store water, or to get nutrients from the soil.  

Although rapid stem growth and large surfaces may give leaves an advantage for obtaining light, it can also result in weakness and the need for support. Pliable stems can recover from trampling and buffeting by wind, however stems that break cannot recover, and the part of the plant separated from water then dies. 

Activity 4A: Different stem structures

Children can look for relationships between stem structures (hollow versus solid, woody versus green, long versus short) and the height or pliability of the plant. 

Activity 4B: Environmental conditions

Discuss why some plants tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions and are widely distributed, whilst others need specific conditions and are limited to the places where these conditions exist (see Useful Resources - Primary Booklet 4) 

Activity 4C: Local climate

Discuss local conditions in the school grounds. How much sunlight is there? What are the highest and lowest temperatures over the course of the year? How much rain falls? 

Activity 4D: Plant death

In the school grounds, children can look for dead plants and discuss what might have caused the plant to die (this might include: lack of water, lack of light, frost, or excessive heat). They can also discuss what it means for a plant to be ‘dormant.’

Useful resources

5. Nutritional qualities

Each fruit and vegetable types are composed differently – vegetables and fruits contain varying amounts of water, sugar, and fibre (as well as other nutrients). 

Activity 5A: Tasting and comparing

Children may look for differences between the water, sugar, and fibre content of a variety of fruits and vegetables by tasting samples in class – these might include: watery cucumber; sweet apple; and sturdy carrots.  

Discussion can follow about the importance of these nutrients in our own diets. For example: What happens to our skin if we don’t drink enough? What happens to our bodies if we don’t eat enough fibre? 

Useful resources

6. Space for growth

Different vegetables grow to different sizes. It’s important to consider this as a part of planning what, and how many plants to grow (in unit 6 ‘From Planting to Growing’ we consider the One Foot Square method). 

Activity 6A: Calculating plant growing spaces

Following a discussion as to which vegetables and fruit the school aims to grow, the children can start finding out: 

  • How big the different plant types grow  
  • How many will fit into the allocated garden space, and how far apart the seeds or seedlings will have to be spaced  
  • When the plants will be ready to harvest 
Useful resources

You have reached the end of this unit. To assess your knowledge before starting the next unit, please complete the short quiz found at the link below. 

Please note: you will have to enter your email address at the start of each unit quiz if you wish to be sent a Garden Schools Certificate of Completion once you have worked through all 8 units and quizzes. 

Complete The Mystery of Growth short quiz