Summer | Soil: Grades 1-3

Roots & Shoots: What Do They Do?

Summary: A strong root system is essential to a growing plant. Gardeners will have the chance to run a simple experiment to explore how roots work.

Pre-Visit Planning: 

    • Gather: 4 clear plastic cups, 4 celery stalks with leaves attached, and food coloring. A magnifying glass and a small shovel.
    • Explore: Carrots, tree roots, sprouting potatoes, and “Roots, Foster Garden, Hawaii” by Ansel Adams 
    • Read: What Do Roots Do? By Kathleen V. Kudlinski

In the Garden: 

Roots are essential for healthy plants. They keep the plant attached to the soil, extract nutrients from the dirt, and keep the plant hydrated. Roots work a little like our human digestive system.


-Do you see roots here? 

-Use your magnifying glass and shovel to gently prod at the base of a plant to find its roots and look closer at them.

-Dig up a weed and flatten the base to get a better look at its root system. 

-Compare: For example, are a dandelion’s roots different from clover? Look at the different types of roots you brought, carrots vs. a sprouting potato. What do you notice about their shapes?

Questions to Explore:

-What helps your body grow strong? 

-Do you think a plant needs the same thing as your body to grow?

-Can you describe the roots you saw?

-Why do you think plants have roots?


  • Working together or in small groups move from bed to bed checking the base of each plant. If you see any roots showing or spots where a small animal may have tried to chew on the plant, use your shovel to gently re-cover the area with soil. The soil acts like a blanket to protect the roots.  
  • No roots, no plants! If you see a plant that looks unhealthy, start by looking at its roots. Are they uncovered? Dry? You can find plants in need in the garden or around your neighborhood and with a little extra dirt or water you might be able to help save them.

Beyond the Garden | Conduct an Experiment in the Garden Then Monitor Your Results at Home or in Your Classroom

  • Take the smaller, more tender central stalks from a bunch of celery. Cut the bottoms at an angle. 
  • Fill four clear plastic cups with 8 oz. of water. Put 20-30 drops of food coloring in three of the cups, leaving one as a clear control. 
  • Place the celery stalks into the water. 
  • Keep a journal checking on your experiment after three hours, 24 hours, and 48 hours. What changes did you notice?

Continue Exploring | Supporting Materials

More activities:

Note for Parents:
Each lesson suggests you explore a piece of artwork and read a specific book with your child. The artwork and books are easily available for view with an online search. However, these suggestions are not necessary to complete the lessons.

Guiding Principles


Learning, though not always visible, is always happening. The lessons are designed using inquiry as a base. Rather than “right answers” be more concerned with asking good questions.


Things may not go as planned. The lessons are designed to be used in whatever way works best for you. You can use all of the lesson or just pull a piece out of it.


Planting and cultivating a garden is believing in possibility. The lessons are designed to generate excitement about the future.


Each lesson includes a way to take the learning out into the community for more learning and more connection.


When a young child’s innate curiosity is unleashed in a garden the possibilities are endless. Any topic is open for exploration.


You will get dirty. There will be bugs.