A Child’s Terrarium is Magical Too

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A Child’s Terrarium is Magical, Too

Creating terrariums has been an adult project that I have very much enjoyed doing all by myself. My son also loves the terrariums I make. He enjoys staring into the glass vessels and inspecting their miniature habitats. He has managed to mostly control his impulses, and follow the “Eyes only, no hands” rule that accompany my glass worlds. He even manages to do so when we have a couple of ladybugs crawling around inside a jar for one or two days. He likes my terrariums so much, however, that I wanted him to have his own that are accessible and hands-on. I wanted to find a way to replicate the creative experience for him, as well, to create with him a child’s terrarium.


A Child's Terrarium is Magical. Bean Seed Planted Within.
A Child’s Terrarium is Magical


On Pinterest I was reminded of a project I had seen before: starting a seed inside of a clear, plastic container stuffed with a damp piece of paper. I tried this project out a while ago. As with all of us, my son is perfectly aware of how a seedling appears above the surface of the soil. But also, as is the case for so many, what happens beneath the soil was still a complete mystery to him. We followed the conventional instructions to unearth this secret and it was fun. My son thoroughly enjoyed his peas and beans growing on the windowsill next to our kitchen table. I enjoyed his excitement and I like anything that grows. Still, this was not my favorite project. To tell the truth, it was really ugly.


A Bean Germinating in the Garden. What is Happening Beneath the Soil?
A Bean Germinates in the Garden…But What Takes Place Beneath the Soil?


Building terrariums for myself and my family gave me the idea that we could create something better, something beautiful, instead of a straggly plant in plastic.


A child's Terrarium by Mama is Inspired.
A Child’s Indoor Seed Sprouting Project can be Beautiful


First of all, we switched to glass jars. Aesthetically, this already made a world of difference. Another difficulty I found with the basic bean and pea projects we tried the first time around involved how much the plants wanted to grow. They did indeed manage to grow – our pea plant even produced a pod containing one mature pea! However, they looked starved. The plants were pale and stringy and dropped many leaves. I imagined that in our new version a little soil could be added in just the right way, making sure that the seeds were not occluded, but that there would be nourishment for our tender seeds. This way the plants could have longer, much prettier lives. Another challenge was that peas and beans like to climb. With no support system they would grow up as far as they could manage on their own, and then fall over. The plants were a straggly mess. This is what I had to look at each morning when we had breakfast. Not good enough! I knew these lovely little plants could start off my day with far more inspiration and magic. Instead of a child’s science project, I wished for a child’s terrarium.


How my Son and I Built a Child’s Terrarium Together


We rescued two transparent, glass jars from my mother’s recycling bin. My stepfather was an angel and he washed the containers and removed the labels for us.

I poured about a half an inch of light, sterilized potting soil into the bottom of each jar. Sterilization is a hassle but absolutely necessary. From personal experience, I can share that you don’t want to contaminate all your indoor plants with pests that come into the house in commercial potting soils. Potting soils sold outdoors at big box retailers are the worst culprits of all.


The Child's Terrariums are Filled with Soil
The Child’s Terrariums are Filled with Soil. Paper Napkins and Seeds are Ready to Add.


My child crumpled up unused napkins that we brought home with us from our last flight to Montreal. I can never bring myself to toss out unused napkins. I know that at some point they will come in handy.


Place the Crumpled Ball of Paper into the Glass Jar that is the child's terrarium.
Place the Crumpled Ball of Paper Napkin into the Glass Jar


Then my son, two years old, placed two or three of his crumpled balls on top of the layer of potting soil in each jar. He was so delighted to take the responsibility for preparing and placing the paper into the jars all on his own.

I reached into each jar and fiddled a small bit with the crumpled paper to make a natural shelf in each. Each shelf was meant to hold a seed where it could be easily viewed from outside the jar.

Next, my little boy placed a pea seed onto one shelf, and a runner bean seed onto the other.


Plant Bean and Pea Seeds in the Terrarium
Seeds are Placed on Paper Shelves in the Terrariums


Together, we gently poured some water into each jar: just enough for the paper to wick the water up to the seed. Pea seeds easily get too damp and rot, so a lighter touch is better for pea seeds. If you need to add more water on a later day, you can do so.


Proud of his Work in his terrarium
Satisfied with the Responsibility of Preparing his Terrarium all on his Own


Place the lids on the jars, and set your child’s terrariums in a bright place. Our kitchen windowsill is bright and does not receive direct sunlight.


We Placed our Child's Terrariums on a Bright Windowsill.
We Placed our Terrariums on a Bright Windowsill


Every morning we inspect the growth. These sorts of seeds sprout so quickly! It is so much fun to watch the young growth. Once the plants were high enough that they were growing back downward again, we removed the lids and the vines popped out! My little boy found this step to be hilarious. The popping plant stem inspired a gleeful, toddler squeal.


Germinating and growing Quickly, we Prepared Trellises for our Child's Terrariums
We Prepared Trellises for our Terrariums


To support the upward growth, we made trellises for our plants. We collected sticks from a local park and we cut lengths of wool yarn at home. I built an organic looking trellis by wrapping yarn around the joints where the sticks met. My son thickly wrapped his lengths of yarn around his sticks. He laid them out on the table for a while. Then he surrounded the jars on the windowsill with his yarn strewn branches for a day. Then one day I noticed his sticks stuffed into and poking out of his pea terrarium! This works, too! It is not necessary that the trellises be traditional in design. Trellises merely need to support the growth of the young plants.


My Son's Sweet Version of a Trellis for his Child's Terrarium.
My Son’s Adorable Version of a Trellis


Once the lids are removed, you have to keep on top of watering. In the summer months, the paper tends to dry out quickly. After several weeks of growth, we added more soil to the jars.  My son poured in more soil just up to the level of the seed, so that we would not have to water as often, and also to provide more sustenance for the small plants. Having my son complete this step was a bit messy, of course but again he was delighted to do so on his own.


A Homemade Trellis Supports a Bean Plant Growing in a Child's Terrarium.
A Homemade Trellis Supports a Bean Plant


Our glass jar planters are beautiful! My son knows the secrets of the life of a seed beneath the soil and we both get to start each morning off right, with the inspiration and grace that a child’s terrarium offers.


My Son's Trellis for a Child's TErrarium is just as Lovely as Mine.
My Son’s Trellis is Just as Beautiful


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We Heart Collage

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We Heart Collage


Detail of My Son's First Solo Collage
Detail of My Son’s First Solo Collage


At all times, there is a work of glue art on the go atop my kitchen table. Since my son’s other first language is French, my husband finds it amusing that glue art is what my son and I have come to call collage. However, since my son has not created a hierarchy for the colorful scraps of paper images and the glue used to hold them down, this name is entirely à propos. While most adults would be satisfied to employ glue only for the purpose of adhering cut paper pieces to a backdrop, my son makes use of his glorious glue to add another dimension to his work. I was truly startled the first time I watched my son handle the glue in this fashion. It seemed like so much work. For a two year old, squeezing with both hands, it takes all the strength his little body can muster to get a good stream of glue going. He also tends to forget that gravity is at play. Sometimes he gets a little frustrated. In spite of this, he never gives up. Eventually, he manages to spread the glue around like paint, thoughtfully laying down drips, spots and trails. He is young! Of course he makes use of glue in this manner! He still possesses the artistic freedom of a child who has not yet been told that pictures are more important than white, drippy goo. I was also surprised by how thoughtfully my son considers just where each image and extra pour of glue should go. I am not sure why this surprised me so much. It is a work of art and he does not imagine that he is just slapping disposed paper on cardboard. Of course he cares about his project!


Making collage with children
A Two-Year-Old Contemplating Collage


My young son’s passion extends beyond the white glue and many-colored images. I never imagined that I would allow my son to use scissors all by himself at the tender age of two. After a couple of times observing me cut out his collage pictures, my son worked up a desire to wield the scissors on his own. I didn’t consciously set out to grant him his wish, but on a whim one day, I bought a pair of children’s scissors that beckoned to me from a store shelf of art supplies. When we arrived home, my son was ecstatic to find out that I had actually bought these scissors. I do not think he expected to be using scissors any more than I did. These scissors did not disappoint. My son is in love with cutting. In fact, cut and couper are the only words my son regularly uses to express a single concept, in both of his languages. Now my son is able to manage every step of glue art or collage all on his own. He sees his father’s own collage work and notices there is not much of a difference between the work the two of them produce. No wonder collage is my son’s favorite work to make in his kitchen-studio.


A love affair with collage and scissors
A Love Affair with Scissors


Collage is also a great way to reuse and re-purpose cast away items in our home. Mostly for the worse, we live in an age of excess print material. I am trying to make the better of this wasteful trend. Collage is a fun, creative place to start. I look at mail-order catalogs, non-profit materials, and museum membership drives with new eyes. The same goes for food boxes and packaging left from new toys. We take apart old crafts that my son has made at library story-time or parent-and-me classes, and salvage all the materials we think we would like to use again. We have a bag full of items to be cut up and another sac of images and craft supplies that are ready to glue. Sifting through and cutting up images gives me something to do so that I am actively involved in my son’s project, while at the same time letting my son create on his own; I am present the way he wants me to be, but at the same time he has all the autonomy he seeks. This works out very well for both of us. Glue art has worked its way into our hearts. ♥


Collage at the Kitchen Table
My Son Picks Up and Puts Down the Collage On-the-Go at our Kitchen Table with the Whims of his Mood



Finished Collage Art
Finished Art


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