At Portland Children’s Museum, we are always looking for creative ways to explore our world.
Recently Jen Richardson-Greene, a Portland-based installation sculptor and floral designer, and part of our rotating Artist in Residence program, helped us imagine new possibilities with live plants.
Jen and the children who visited the museum created large-scale temporary installation sculptures as well as teeny-tiny live gardens. The miniature gardens were an especially big hit with our youngest visitors, and are easy to make at home.
Potting soil for succulents and cacti
Shallow container large enough to contain some of the creative mess
Tiny succulents (we like to let the kids be involved in picking their plants)
Small digging tools, such as spoons
Items to decorate the gardens (you can use anything you like to collect: small stones, moss, sticks, marbles and feathers)
1. Place soil in a large container with digging tools and arrange decorating materials.
2. Explore the textures, smells and colors of your plants, decoration material and soil. We like to encourage children to slow down and look closely; they make really interesting observations and connections.
3. Very gently place plants in eggshells, pulling excess dirt off the roots of the plants. Sometimes the egg shells break and that is okay. Just try again even more gently and continue to be patient. This activity is great for developing fine motor skills.
4. Once your plant is in the eggshell, carefully add soil to succulents to fill the shell.
5. Add details and decoration to your miniature garden. Get creative and create tiny worlds. Over time the eggshells will slowly disintegrate and can be discarded or planted into new eggshells or plant pots.
When you are finished, encourage children to think about the stories that can live in their gardens. Write or draw these stories to share. This is especially valuable for children who are school-aged, since finding fun, creative ways for kids to express themselves and tell their own stories helps to encourage literacy skills. Sharing stories with others and caring for other living things also helps to build a kid’s sense of empathy and community.
Jess Graff is a Portland-based artist and educator, and the Artist in Residence manager at the Portland Children’s Museum. She has been teaching and working in the arts for more than a decade. The Artist in Residence program brings regional professional artists to the museum to work with children and their families through drop-in programming. The residency program at the Museum is made possible by generous funding from Arlene Schnitzer and the Collins Foundation.