Year-End Summer Activity: Build and Study a Terrarium

With COVID-19 still a reality this summer, it’s going to be even harder to enjoy the time off school when many places are still following social and physical distancing guidelines. In an attempt to focus attention on staying safe while still enjoying the summer season, we’re sharing our terrarium hands-on science experiments for kids to complete at home during their time off.

In the first part, students will be asked to build their own terrarium. Study an ecosystem that they make themselves. In this activity students will make a complete ecosystem inside a big jar. A small ecosystem in a jar is called a terrarium.

This is what you they’ll need:

  • a big jar you can see through
  • dirt
  • plants
  • worms
  • bugs
  • sticks and stones
  • This is what they’ll do:

    1. Clean the jar.
    2. Find dirt with worms in it.
    3. Put a layer of dirt and worms in the bottom of the jar. The dirt should be loose, not packed. It should be a little wet, but not muddy.
    4. Look for bugs near where the dirt was collected. Try to find bugs that are eating plants.
    5. Put the bugs and leaves of the plants in the jar.
    6. Plant some plants in the dirt.
    7. Put some nice stones and sticks in the jar to make it look interesting.
    8. Put a small dish of water in the jar.

    The jar can be covered or not. If it is covered, watch to see that everything is living okay. Make sure there are small holes in the covering to let in fresh air. If it is closed, it will be a complete ecosystem all to itself. Don’t put the jar in the Sun, but let it have light. Watch to see that it is not too wet or too dry. See if the plants, bugs, and worms look healthy. Write about what is seen each day. Name the producers, the consumers, and the decomposers. Which things put in the jar do the plants and animals need to stay alive?

    In the second part, students will be asked to study food and energy in a terrarium. In this part, students will see how energy and matter move through the ecosystem. The terra- part of terrarium means earth or land. The aqua- part of aquarium means water. So, a terrarium is a land ecosystem. An aquarium is a water ecosystem.

    This is what they’ll need:

    The terrarium made in Experiment One.

    This is what they’ll do:

    1. How does energy flow through the terrarium?
    a) Where does it come from?
    b) Who gets it first?
    c) What becomes of it?

    2. Watch the plants for a few days. How fast are they growing?

    3. Try leaving a light shining all day and all night for a while.
    a) Did the plants grow faster with more light?
    b) Did they grow slower?
    c) Explain what is seen.

    4. Where are the bugs getting their energy? How is this observed?

    5. If there are no dead leaves on the top of the dirt, put some there. Watch what happens to the leaves over many days.
    a) Are the leaves turning to dirt?
    b) Are the worms helping turn the leaves to dirt?

    For a printable version of this 2-part experiment, download the free resource here. And don’t forget to read our previous blog post on how to Stay Positive During a Pandemic Summer for ideas on different COVID-19-friendly summer activities.

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