Teaching photosynthesis at home is simple and fun if you combine hands-on activities with textbook learning.
What is Photosynthesis?
Basically, photosynthesis is the process by which plants convert the sun's light into energy. Photosynthesis is one of the most important processes on the planet; it is the foundation for the entire food chain and provides humans with breathable air.
Teaching Photosynthesis at Home
When teaching photosynthesis, it is important to explain the process in terms your child can understand.
Just as humans drink water when they are thirsty, plants take in water through their roots. They also absorb carbon dioxide from the air. When they have enough sunlight, the plants then turn the water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and glucose, or sugar. They use the glucose as a source of energy to grow, just as humans need food to grow. They release the oxygen back into the environment for humans to breathe.
This process is called photosynthesis.
To perform this process, plants require the help of a chemical called chlorophyll. This chemical is what gives leaves their green color. During fall and winter, there is less water and sunlight available for photosynthesis. Because of this, plants enter a resting state and stop producing glucose. When photosynthesis stops and chlorophyll decreases, the leaves begin to change colors. This is why trees have yellow and orange leaves during the colder months of the year.
Creating a Lesson Plan
Consider the age and ability level of your child when designing a photosynthesis lesson plan to use during homeschooling. While older children may have no trouble grasping the chemistry behind photosynthesis, younger children may need to start with the basics before proceeding to more complex activities. You may want to combine written lessons with hands-on activities when teaching photosynthesis.
It is beneficial to incorporate hands-on learning activities in addition to written material when teaching photosynthesis, especially for younger children. You can perform the following activities with materials readily available in your home or community.
Activity One: Photosynthesis Pictorial
Using construction paper and crayons or markers, have your child design a pictorial representation of photosynthesis.
- Instruct your child to draw a plant or flower on the paper.
- Have your child draw a sun above the plant to symbolize the sun's energy.
- Ask your child to add a source of water for the plant. This can be in the form of raindrops or groundwater.
- On the left side of the paper, have your child write the words "Carbon Dioxide" or write the term for him, depending on his age. Draw an arrow leading from the term to the plant to show that the plant is taking in the carbon dioxide from the environment.
- On the right side of the paper, have your child write the word "Oxygen." Draw an arrow pointing away from the plant to symbolize the release of oxygen into the surrounding air.
- Have your child draw a sugar cube near the base of the plant to symbolize the glucose produced by photosynthesis.
- Explain to your child how each step of the process works while he is working on the drawing.
Activity Two: Important of Sunlight in Photosynthesis
Showing your child what happens to plants when they do not receive sufficient exposure to sunlight is essential when teaching photosynthesis. You can demonstrate the effect of too little sunlight on plants in just a few days.
- Gather some aluminum foil, paper clips, and a pair of scissors.
- Have your child select a houseplant or small shrub for the activity.
- Help your child cut the foil into small pieces. The pieces should be small enough to fit on the plant's leaves.
- Using the paper clips, secure the foil pieces to several leaves on the plant.
- Place the plant in a sunny location, such as outside or near a window.
- In four to five days, have your child remove the paperclips and observe the leaves on the plant. The parts covered by foil will look different from the parts exposed to sunlight. Ask your child why this change occurred.
Activity Three: Collecting Leaves
Collecting leaves during the fall is a simple way of teaching photosynthesis to younger children. Go for a walk with your child and instruct him to collect as many different colored leaves as possible. You can display the leaves in a scrapbook, photo album, or just store them inside plastic baggies. Explain to your child why each leaf has a different color.
The Internet offers a variety of useful information on teaching photosynthesis.
- Illuminating Photosynthesis, the PBS website on teaching photosynthesis, offers an interactive flash animation, easy-to-understand text, and a few educational puzzles.
- Wonderville has an interactive game and lesson plan for older elementary aged children.