Inside: Putting together a fairy garden is not just fun! It incorporates science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning.
When I observe my daughter playing with her fairy garden, I’m struck by how completely engaged, focused, and happy she is with what she’s doing. Her hands are moving gently over pebbles, flowers, and sticks. She acts with a purpose. There is a story in her head that she’s acting out, and her imagination is working like crazy.
However, even though it looks like mere play, it’s also very educational. Every step of Fairy Garden planning, design, and execution is an opportunity for STEM learning. Give your kids a chance, and they will be practicing engineering and math (measuring, counting, etc.), engaging in technological thinking (i.e., patterns, design, logic), and diving into the science of rocks, plants, and physics.
Oh, fairy gardens!
Over the years, we have tried many different garden designs. In the past, we usually began by going to the gardening store and stocking up on moss, succulents, and other “magical” plants. We worked together to arrange it all nicely in a pot, and it all looked stunning.
In some past summers, however, we forgot to water our miniature fairy garden, and it dried up. Other summers, we didn’t forget to water it, and it even survived long enough for us to take it inside for the winter, and then it died.
This is to say that I’m now officially tired of throwing away dried-up fairy gardens, and we’ve learned to go about fairy gardening differently. Instead of planting things, we go for a walk and pick up anything remarkable, blooming, colorful, or functional that fairies will likely adore – sticks, stones, leaves, flowers, etc.
Once we get home, we put it together. My daughter plays with it until the flowers and leaves wilt, and then we go for another walk and make another one.
My kids tell me that it’s a much better idea because they are not “stuck” with the same arrangement for the whole season. That means continual creativity and endless design for them, and less sad dead pots for me.
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Do you have fairy books in your house? It’s always good to start inspired.
Some of our favorite fairy books are:
- Magical Secret Garden (Flower Fairies) by Cicely Mary Barker – The drawings are exquisite!
- How to Find Flower Fairies by the same author, though the book is now out of print you might be able to find it at your library.
- Fairy Gardening 101 by Fiona McDonald. This book is for you if you are totally new to fairy gardening.
- …and Fairy House: How to Make Amazing Fairy Furniture, Miniatures, and More from Natural Materials by Debbie Schramer.
Do you feel inspired? Follow along as I walk you through our steps and explain how powerful STEM learning can happen with some simple Fairy Garden play.
Fairy Garden Ideas for STEM Learning and Play
What you need
- From outside: Sticks, stones, leaves, flowers, pinecones, seashells, sand, pebbles, and anything else you can find on your walk
- From inside: Small toys from around the house that are suitable for fairies (my kids like LEGO figurines), a small container with water for pond or fresh flowers, items from old fairy gardens if you had them in the past
- Glue, string, or tape (optional for older kids to assemble natural materials in more sophisticated ways)
- A pot (or you can arrange the fairy garden right in the soil in your backyard)
What to do
1. Take a Walk
Go for a walk and keep your eyes open for natural things. Did you find a perfectly round stone? It would make an excellent fairy coffee table. Does this stick look like a hook? You can use it to hang a fairy’s coat (aka leaf). A pebble or a pinecone? Encourage your kids to be creative. Anything you find can be used. Fairies are big fans of nature 🙂
2. Fill a pot with dirt.
Or maybe, like us, you always have a pot or two in the garage already filled with dirt from a previous year’s garden.
3. Engineering the Fairy Garden
Discuss what your child has in mind for a layout. Engineers think about how they want things to look and figure out how to make that possible. They can use their imagination to visualize what they want to create. What are the needed materials? Are there going to be structures like a rain shelter or a swing? Ponds? Path?
This is an excellent time to introduce some terms like engineering design, planning, and measurement. Grab a ruler and measure the pot. Are you planning a path from one side of the pot to the other? How long is the path going to be? Do you have enough pebbles, sticks, or whatever you are using for making it? How do you know if you have enough?
Engineers are problem solvers. So, if it doesn’t work out as planned, try something else, and encourage kids not to get discouraged. Something not working is when you learn the most.
4. Science in the Fairy Garden
One of my favorite things about making a fairy garden with my kids (besides playing like a kid instead of doing the dishes) is discussing great science topics. If you find some rocks on your walk, ask your kids, Do you know if The Earth Is Made of Rock? Why are stones different colors? What do you call scientists who study rocks? (geologists)
If you find some sticks to represent trees, then ask your kids to estimate how many trees are in the world. The answer is over 3 trillion! It sounds like a lot, but if you take into consideration 7 billion people and over 8 million species of animals, that doesn’t sound like that much anymore. In fact, Earth’s Oxygen Levels Are Declining. This is a great time to discuss the interdependence of plants and people.
The exciting thing is that just two trees release enough oxygen to support a family of four!! So if you have a chance, make it a family project: go ahead and plant a couple of trees. We did, and I can tell you from my experience that it’s a great self-confidence-building project for kids. It’s also a wonderful thing for the planet.
Are you using plants in your fairy garden? Of course, you are: fairies love grass, leaves, and flowers. Talk about how plants grow, what they need from the soil, and other plant growth topics. You can print our plant resources below to guide your discussion!
Are your kids trying to use a top-heavy stick, and it keeps falling over? Might be the right time to discuss what a center of gravity is and where it should be, i.e. close to the ground. We talk a lot about gravity on the blog. You might be interested in checking out Defying Gravity and Using Gravity to Twist a Soda Can.
5. Technological thinking
Simply put, technology is anything outside the body that can be used to achieve goals. It doesn’t have to be sophisticated. Stone tools were the first technological invention in our history. Made nearly two million years ago, they prove that technical thinking has played an essential role in our lives throughout history.
What would help someone stay dry during rain? A roof over the head! We used two sticks to prop up a large leaf to create a shelter in a hurry.
Technical thinking is efficient thinking. It involves breaking the goal into manageable pieces and working through them in a logical order. Does it make sense to decorate the fairy garden before putting the large pieces in? Probably not because once you start digging up a pond, all the delicate decorations are going to be pushed out of place.
- What should be done first?
- How can it be done?
- What can be done last?
- What do you think will happen if…?
- How does this ___ work? Why do you think that?
6. Math in the Fairy Garden
How many flowers have you planted in your garden?
We didn’t plant; we clipped the flowers we liked and stuck them in the soil. To help a hydrangea stay fresh for a few days, we filled a tiny plastic container with water and placed it in a dug hole in the pot.
Then we used sticks to cover the top of the container to prevent stones from falling in and displacing water.
If you made a fence, how many sticks did it take? We used 12 sticks to make a fence along the edge of the pot, then covered the sticks with large leaves so it looks like a green wall.
Do you have stones? How many? We used rocks to make a path through “the garden.”
What is the size of the pot? How tall is it? For more advanced mathematicians, calculating something like circumference or even volume would be a great exercise.
Summer wouldn’t be complete in my house without making a fairy house or two (or a dozen 🙂 who is counting?). And playing with it for hours (and days!) It’s something we look forward to, collect items for, and dive into as soon as the weather allows.
I would love to see some pics of your fairy gardens! Send them my way ([email protected]), and I will share them with all the Kid Minds readers.