Exploring Texture in the Garden (Grades 3-5)
Students will explore living and nonliving things, determine how nonliving resources help sustain plant life, and experiment with visual arts techniques through an examination of texture in the natural world. Activities in this lesson include collecting and categorizing items from the natural environment, creating seed and soil mosaics, making clay imprints, and coloring cloth with plant materials.
Interest Approach — Engagement:
- 5 different types of produce (e.g., apple, orange, celery, potato, onion)
- 5 different rocks (e.g., sandstone, granite, coal, pyrite, quartz)
- Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens
- Looking at Rocks (My First Field Guides) by Jennifer Dussling
Activity 1: Mosaics
- Paper or resealable quart bags, 1 per student
- Access to an outdoor area with a variety of vegetation (garden, schoolyard, or park)
- A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston
- A Handful of Dirt by Raymond Bial
- Paper plates, 1 per student (if plates are thin, double or triple the number)
- A variety of large seeds (from popcorn to beans, all can be found in a grocery store)
- A variety of soil types (collect soils with different textures and colors)
- White glue (such as Elmers)
- Plastic spoons
- Clear lacquer or clear varnish spray (optional)
Activity 2: Garden Imprinting
- Paper or resealable quart bag, 1 per student
- Modeling or ceramic clay, 1 small ball per student
- Vegetable oil spray (optional)
Activity 3: Garden Colors
- Rolling pins, 1 for every 4-5 students
- Cotton muslin, one 12’’ x 12’’ inch piece per student
- Hammers or crab mallets, 1 for every 4-5 students (crab mallets can be ordered online)
- Cardboard frame (8.5’’ x 11’’)
living: something that has the ability to grow, move, reproduce, etc., which separates plants and animals from things like water or rocks
organic matter: component of soil derived from the decay of plants and animals
soil: a mixture of minerals, organic matter, water, and air, which forms on the land surface and can support the growth of plants
texture: surface characteristics that can be seen or felt
Did You Know? (Ag Facts)
- Without soil there would be no life on Earth.1
- Organic matter is an important part of soil, and it is made of things that were once alive.1
- The word dirt comes from the old English word drit which means manure.1
Background Agricultural Connections
This lesson uses the garden as a setting for integrating the art concept of texture with life science standards. In the visual arts, texture is the perceived surface quality of a piece of art. For example, a piece of art can look smooth and glossy or rough and bumpy. Sometimes a piece of art that looks rough and bumpy will feel smooth to the touch because the artist has made our eyes perceive a texture that our hands can’t feel. Use of texture, along with other elements of design, can convey a variety of messages and emotions. In the garden, a variety of textures can be observed and felt.
A garden is also a great place to explore the differences between living and nonliving things and the connections between them. Living plants and bugs abound in the garden, as do nonliving rocks. The mineral component of the soil is nonliving, but a handful of soil contains many living creatures, most of which are too small for us to see. Soil organisms and plant roots depend on the nonliving components of the soil for nutrition (minerals like potassium and calcium come from weathering of rocks) and habitat (soil protects roots, holds water and air, and provides a home for many worms and insects). When plants die, they decompose and become part of the soil as organic matter. Organic matter is an important component of healthy soil. It helps the soil hold air and water that plant roots and other soil organisms need.
Living things have characteristics that differentiate them from nonliving things. Living things grow, move, and reproduce; nonliving things do not. Plants are some of the most important living players in the garden. They provide us with vegetables and fruits as well as beautiful flowers, leaves, and textures. On farms, plants are very important, providing food for both people and animals. Although plants can’t walk, run, or jump, they do move, turning leaves toward the sun, curling tendrils around trellises, and opening and closing flowers. In order to live and grow, plants need light, air, water, and nutrients, all of which are nonliving.
Interest Approach - Engagement
- Place five different types of produce and five rocks of different kinds under a blanket (be sure the students don’t see the items you have placed under the blanket). Invite the students to sit in a circle around the blanket and then ask them to describe the texture of the items and guess what it is that they are feeling. Record the student responses on the board and remove the blanket. Edit the list on the board (erase incorrect item responses and add item names missed by the students).
- Ask the students, “If you had to divide these items into two groups based on their characteristics, what would the groups be? Why?”
- Read Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens to determine the plant parts that were felt by the students and Looking at Rocks (My First Field Guides) by Jennifer Dussling to categorize the rocks.
- Explain to the students that all of the produce came from living plants, while the rocks are nonliving. In the following activities, they will learn more about living and nonliving things and explore ways to observe and classify objects in the natural environment.
Activity 1: Mosaics
- Provide each student with a paper or resealable bag and ask them to go into the garden (or a park or schoolyard) and collect 5-10 items that have different textures (this may also be assigned as homework or as a family connection assignment).
- Ask the students to examine their collections and think about ways that they could categorize the items they’ve collected. Discuss the characteristics of living and nonliving things, and then ask the students to categorize their items as living or nonliving.
- Did anyone collect plant parts, seeds, rocks, or soil? Read A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston and A Handful of Dirt by Raymond Bial, and use the following discussion points to build students’ knowledge of plants and the soil plants use to receive nutrients.
- Ask the students if soil is living or nonliving. Explain that a large part of the soil is made up of nonliving small pieces of rock—sand, silt, and clay particles—but that soil as a whole is teeming with life—insects, fungi, and bacteria that are too small to see. Almost any handful of soil will contain both living organisms and nonliving elements.
- Ask the students if they think seeds are living or nonliving. Explain that seeds are living, but they do not show the characteristics of living things until they germinate and begin to grow, which will not happen until the seed is in the right environment. Seeds need water in order to germinate. Without water they will not grow.
- Ask the students if plants are living or nonliving. What about the plants that they collected? Explain that plants (even small pieces of plants) continue living for some time after they have been picked. They will eventually die because they no longer have a source of nutrients and water without their roots in the soil. Plants cannot live long without water.
- Tell the students that they will be creating seed and soil mosaics to go along with some of the items they have collected. They will use their living and nonliving items to create a piece of art and explore a wide variety of textures. Define texture and explain that it is an important component of art that can be used to create different messages and emotions for the person viewing the artwork. Ask the students to identify the two senses we use to perceive texture (sight and touch), and discuss how the texture of a piece of art does not always feel the way it looks.
- Provide each student with a paper plate, glue, a variety of seeds, and soils. Have the seeds and soils handy in saucers or cups. Large seeds will work best for small hands and the soil can be sprinkled with teaspoons.
- Students may trace an outline of a mosaic picture or pattern they would like to create. If a skyline is needed, add it first with paint or colored pencil (glue does not stick well to crayon).
- Ask the students to select three to five of the items they have collected to be placed on the mosaic, keeping in mind that green vegetation will wilt (encourage them to use nonliving items).
- Instruct students to glue the large items on the mosaic first and add the seeds and dry soils next. All items should be attached with plenty of white glue. It is best if glue is applied to the lines of the design which have been traced onto the background, working with small areas at a time. Better results will be obtained if an area is left to dry before proceeding. Keep glue off of the surfaces where no seeds will be applied. Once the glue is dry, avoid flexing the paper plate.
- Optional: You may spray a clear lacquer or clear varnish over the seed and soil mosaic after the glue has dried. This will hold the seeds and soils better and will also bring more luster and color out of the seeds and soils used.
Activity 2: Garden Imprinting
- Provide each student with a paper or resealable bag. Ask the students to go back into the garden (or park or schoolyard) to collect 10 items that feel different from one another (this may also be assigned as a homework or family connection assignment). Instruct students not to show each other what they’ve collected.
- Divide the class into two groups arranged so that they cannot easily see each other’s work spaces.
- Discuss the concept of “once-living.” Once-living things like sticks and fallen leaves will decompose in the garden given enough time and become a part of the soil called organic matter. Organic matter is an important component of healthy soil. It helps the soil hold air and water that plant roots and other soil organisms need.
- Instruct the students to individually sort the items they have collected into living, nonliving, and once-living groups.
- Provide each student with a ball of clay. Ask the students to pick the item that has the most interesting texture to make a clay imprint with, noting whether the item is living, nonliving, or once-living. Instruct the students to roll out the clay with their hands, pressing their chosen item into one side. Then, they should carefully remove the item to leave an imprint. When finished, have them put all of their collected items away.
- Note: Placing the items on a piece of newspaper and spraying them with vegetable oil will make it easier to remove them from the clay.
- Ask each group to place their clay imprints in a line and label them with numbers. Tell them that the groups are going to switch places and try to identify which item was used to make each imprint, and classify whether the item was living, nonliving, or once-living.
- Allow time for the groups to examine each other’s imprints. Instruct the students to write down their best guesses for the identity and classification of each item.
- Have the students return to their seats. Go through the imprints one by one, discussing students’ guesses for the identity and classification of each item, and then revealing the actual item. Discuss any differences between the guesses and the actual items and how the textures of the items affected the quality of the imprints.
Activity 3: Garden Colors
- Ask the students to get out the remaining items that they collected from the garden at the beginning of Activity 2, and pick out all of the living items (these should be mostly plants and parts of plants).
- Ask the students if they think plants are important and why. Prompt them to think about all the food we eat that comes from plants—fruits, vegetables, grains, and oils. Even the meat and dairy that we eat comes indirectly from plants because plants feed the animals that provide us with meat and dairy. In addition to food, plants also provide us with fiber to make fabric and paper, as well as dyes to color fabric and paint paper.
- Tell the students that they will be using the plant items they collected to create an art imprint on cloth. People throughout history have crushed plants and used the natural pigments as paint and to dye their fabric for clothing.
- Cover the work area with newspaper. Ask the students to randomly or naturally (like you might see the plant in nature) arrange the plant materials (not more than two items on top of one another) on the newspaper and cover with the 12’’ x 12’’ cloth (make sure all the vegetation is under the cloth).
- The students should crush the materials by rolling a rolling pin over their arrangement. Crushing leaves, stems, or flowers with a rolling pin releases pigments that stain the fabric. A hammer may be used on more fibrous materials and to obtain more color.
- When all of the pigment is released (no more color coming out onto the cloth), help students frame their work.
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Plants are living things that provide food to people, animals, and other living things.
- Plants depend on nonliving things like soil and water to grow and reproduce.
- When plants die, they decompose and become part of the soil. The once-living component of the soil is called organic matter.
- Texture is an important component of art that can be both felt and seen.
Seed Strength Impressions:
- Put 5 tablespoons of Plaster of Paris into a clear plastic cup. Add 2 tablespoons of water and mix with a plastic spoon. Continue to add drops of water until the mixture has the consistency of a very thick milkshake. Push three soybeans into the plaster until they are covered and then smooth the surface.
- Make regular observations. What do you think will happen to the soybeans? What happens? Why? The next day, add a tablespoon of water to the cup and continue to make observations. What happens? Why?
- Discussion responses: Seeds require moisture and warmth to germinate. In this case, the seeds absorb moisture from the plaster mixture. As the seeds absorb water, they increase in size and apply pressure to the surrounding plaster. This force, combined with the strength of the germinating sprouts, cause the plaster to crack and allows the shoots to grow up through the plaster. The strength and ability to grow in adverse conditions allows plants to survive in a wide range of environments. You may also notice that when water is mixed with plaster, the cup becomes warm. A chemical reaction which gives off heat like this is known as an exothermic reaction.
Make leaf rubbings with your students using the instructions provided in the video Making a Leaf Rubbing for a Nature Journal.
- A Handful of Dirt by Raymond Bial.
Suggested Companion Resources
- Nutrients for Life eLessons
- Seed Ball Garden Activity
- Shape, Form, and Function in the Garden
- A Handful of Dirt
- And the Good Brown Earth
- Harvesting Friends, Cosechando Amigos
- How Groundhog's Garden Grew
- In the Garden: Who's Been Here
- It's Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden
- Jack's Garden
- Mountains of Jokes About Rocks, Minerals, and Soil
- My School Yard Garden
- Rocks and Soil
- The Curious Garden
- Garden Planner
- Sandpaper Texturing Kit
- Soil Painting
- What is a Fruit? What is a Vegetable? Bulletin Boards
- Is it Living... Or Is It Not? (UEN Sci-ber Text for 3rd Grade)
- School Garden Center