The Secrets in Roots: A Free Botany Lesson for Kids

Based on an out-of-print book, “Grocery Store Botany” by Joan Elma Rahn

The Secret Inside Roots is a FREE unit study botany lesson for kids. Included is a FREE workbook for subscribers. This is the second chapter of a series of six-unit study botany lessons with workbooks.

Roots are part of the amazing complexity of plants. Have you ever thought about how in the world do they take nutrients from the soil and send them up to the rest of the plant? Did you know that the leaves send nutrients back down to the roots by way of the stem? Amazing!

We are going to learn about that in this botany lesson. Your kids are going to become the best scientific observers ever! And if you are anything like me, you will be excited to learn about roots too. Technically, this is not a science experiment, but an important observation recording that will stay with your kids for a lifetime. Let’s get started! 

Glass jar, red dye, and a carrot for root observation

The Philosophy at Seasons of Devotion for Childhood Learning

We were made to wonder and to be curious. Creativity will be a natural result when we are given the chance to discover things for ourselves. For more details on why this is true, read my post, “The best way to homeschool so that your children will thrive.”

Supplies for The Secrets Inside Roots Lessons

The supplies you will need are:

  • one glass jar or glass drinking glass
  • liquid red food coloring
  • knife
  • root vegetables: carrots
  • one packet of carrot seeds

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You will gain access to the library that has all the free printables for these lessons along with helpful worksheets for gardeners.

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Day One: Let’s go to the grocery store and a garden center

Prepare for the trip

Be sure to take your kids with you if at all possible. I know that can be a challenge but make an exception this time and take them! If your kids aren’t used to shopping, pretend to go shopping in your own homemade grocery store at home.

Teach Behavior at Home First

Think about how you want the trip to go and prepare for the kind of behavior that you want before you go. That way, when you herd them in from running around or yelling in the store, they can fall back on the pretending you already did at home.

Bribes Work-Sometimes!

I used to bribe mine with a cookie if they behaved. I waited until the end of the shopping and would then head for the bakery for their cookie. It didn’t always work, but it sure did help. The bakery section of the grocery store often offers cookies for kids. If you prefer, many stores offer one free piece of fruit to the kids instead of cookies, located in the produce section. 

Explore and Discover Roots Inside the Grocery Store

Observe Roots in The Produce Section

Head for the produce department. Look for roots, lots of roots. Start a guessing game and see if they can spot other roots after you show them one or two root vegetables.  

While you are there, here are some questions you can ask your child. 

Find the carrots first, then find the parsnips. Does a carrot look like a parsnip? I wonder if they taste the same? What do you think? 

Did you know that carrots and parsnips grow underground? They are actually the roots of the plant. 

Now look for a beet, a turnip, and rutabaga. 

These are all root vegetables. How are they alike? How are they different?  Since they are roots too, they grow in the dirt too. 

Look for a chunk of fresh ginger root. Does it look like a carrot? It’s a root too! This is where we get the flavor for gingerbread cookies. 

Point out that these are all roots even though they look different. 

Potatoes: Not roots, but they sure fooled me!

Find the potatoes. In what ways do a red potato and a sweet potato look the same?

How are they different? 

Potatoes are “tubers”. They are NOT a root. But some people call them roots. We will talk about potatoes in our next lesson when we study stems. For now, it’s good to know that they grow underground, under the potato plant. Like roots, they grow under the plant in the dirt. 

Buy Your Supplies

Now, put these items in your basket for the experiments you will be doing over the next few days

  1. Carrots (with tops attached if possible)
  2. Red food coloring (the liquid kind is best)
  3. One packet of carrot seeds you will probably need to go to the garden center of a “super store” or stop at a home improvement store that has a garden center.
  4. Garden soil for potted garden and a bag of seed starting mix.

You will also need the following, but you probably have them already:

  1. Water
  2. One narrow jar

Do you have a garden? You may find some of these veggies in your garden. Feel free to use the veggies from there.

No garden? I hope you start one soon. I will encourage growing a vegetable throughout this series. Any size is a good start. Try a few pots on a patio or a raised bed or two. Your kids will learn so much from a garden. It’s a great family activity. I have many articles here at Seasons of Devotion to help you. Try this one to start: 6 Important Questions to Ask Before You Plant That Will Make You a Successful Gardener.

Prepare for the next botany lesson about stems now. 

To get a jump start on the lesson about stems, purchase a white or baking potato now. Look for one with eyes already starting. You may need to find an organic potato because many of the ones you see in today’s stores have been treated so that they will not sprout-and you definitely will want sprouts:) 

Here’s the grocery list for the lesson about stems: 

  1. Celery
  2. Fresh broccoli
  3. Fresh asparagus
  4. Fresh strawberries

Day Two: Carrots are roots

Identify Parts of the Carrot First

Look closely at the carrot. Can you find the baby rootlets coming out the sides of the carrots? Most grocery store carrots don’t have them because they have been washed off. This one came from this author’s garden.

The carrot is the main root. The stem is right above the carrot and is very short and is in a tight ring. You may be able to see the stem at the top of your carrot.

If you were able to buy carrots with their green tops still on, you can see the stem at the base of the green tops. The green tops are the carrot leaves.

raw carrot on dark oak table showing rootlets

Here are some carrots that have just been pulled out of the ground.

Record what you learned about carrots in your workbook.

  1. Draw a picture of a carrot. Include the carrot, the rootlets, the stem, and the leaves.
  2. Describe with words what the whole carrot looks like.

Day Three: Discover the Purpose of Roots

Discover the Purpose of Roots

Now it’s time for your science observation. You will need: 

  1. A raw carrot
  2. Red food coloring
  3. Water
  4. Glass jar or drinking glass (glass is best)
Glass jar, red dye, and a carrot for root observation
3 items plus water is all you need!
carrot in a jar with red dye
Let sit for one hour the first time, overnight the second time

Instructions for Your Root Observation

  1. Read these instructions through to the end first so you will know how many of each item you will need before you begin-just in case you need to make a quick run to the store. Maybe a neighbor will be happy to share something that you don’t have already. 
  2. Mix 4 tablespoons of food coloring with 4 tablespoons of water in a glass jar (see step 4)
  3. Cut off the bottom of the carrot, about one inch from the bottom
  4. Put the carrot, cut side down into the red water (It should have 3-4 inches in the dye.)
  5. Wait for one to two hours
  6. Remove the carrot from the red water and rinse the dye off the bottom. DO NOT THROW THE RED DYE OUT. (You will need it to continue this observation and for the next lesson on stems.) 
  7. Cut off the bottom about ½ inch from the bottom that you cut off before.

New Words to Learn

Dyed carrot showing a dyed rootlet and xylem

The center of the carrot is stained red. This part of the vein is called the “xylem”. It takes water upward to the rest of the plant. The xylem can also take nutrients that are dissolved in the water to the parts of the plants that it is sending water to.

Dyed carrot cut lengthwise to show xylem

Look at the cut end again, very closely. Find the other part of the veins. They will not be stained and they will have a light orange ring around the stained center. Try using a magnifying glass to help you see them. Those veins carry water up AND down the root. Huh? How does it do that? That part of the root is called the “phloem”. I remember that word because it sounds like “flow”, which reminds me of water running.

Further Root Exploration

  1. Put the carrot back into the dye water. 
  2. Wait for at least 6 hours, or longer. (Overnight is best.) 

Day Four: Observe and record what you discovered

Dyed carrot cut lengthwise to show xylem

Follow the Xylem!

After you have allowed the carrot to sit in the red dye again for at least six hours, carefully cut the carrot in half the long way up. (or ask an adult to cut it for you.)

See if you can trace the phloem from the bottom to the top. if there were any roots left on the carrot, you may be able to see that the dye went to the little roots too. If your carrot had the tops left on, you may be able to see the red dye in the leaves too.

This group of veins is the phloem that we talked about. It takes longer for those veins to become dyed because, remember, the phloem takes water up AND down. It’s like a two-way street. The leaves make food for the plant, using sunlight, air, and the water that flowed up the root through the xylem. The phloem routes the food through the phloem “tubes” to the root. The root stores the food. The carrot is all that food that the plant made. It stores the food in the root which is the carrot that we can eat. That’s why it’s so nutritious. The plant made the food, the root stored it.

The Reason why the carrot stores nutrition

I bet you thought that the root stored all that nutrition just for you! Carrots are delicious and is very good for you. God gives us plants to eat because they are very good for our bodies. But, there’s another reason the plant stores food. A carrot plant needs food to make more carrots! That food is in the root. A carrot will eventually make new seeds when it is left in the ground to grow for another year. It will use the food from the carrot root. The phloem will carry the food to the seed head. It takes a long time for a carrot to make new seeds. Two years! But, no worries, the carrot has stored plenty of food for the new seeds. Then there can be new carrot plants! 

Roots are part of God’s amazing design to feed us plants. Many parts of plants are good food.

God is good. 

Xylem in Trees

Have you ever seen the rings of a tree that has been cut down? They look like the carrot xylem. 

Yes, indeed. The rings are the xylem for that year. The next year, the tree forms new xylem. The old xylem becomes hard and we know that whole process that continues to harden, layer after layer, year after year, as “wood”. 

A tree trunk is not a root. It’s a stem! You can see the xylem and phloem that you have discovered inside a root is also in stems. But, we’ll get to that in the lesson about stems.

rings of a tree trunk
Wood circle texture slice background

Record your new vocabulary words

What secrets have you found out about roots? Use your new words and fill in your workbook page.

Day Five: Plant Carrot Seeds

Grow carrots

The last page of your workbook chapter on roots has spaces for you to record the growth of your carrot seeds to plant. Follow these instructions and enjoy home-grown carrots!

This could start a whole journey of discovery about how your food grows. Extend this experiment by planting some carrot seeds in a pot of container soil. 

  1. Barely cover the tiny carrot seeds with soil. Start with a 2-3 inch layer of seed starting soil on top of the container garden soil. This ensures that they will not be buried too deep. 
  2. Water as soon as the top dirt dries out (every day!). 
  3. When they are 2-3 inches tall, they will need room to grow. They need 1 inch between them at this point. Do not try to move them. Carefully snip off some of the plants so they are spaced 1 inch apart from each other. 
  4. Draw pictures of what the plants look like as they grow. 
  5. When the carrot tops are about 8 inches tall, they will need 2 inches between them to continue growing bigger. So, gently pull the extra ones out. You should have young carrots to enjoy. 
  6. Carrots take about 5 months to be fully mature. Pull them at that time and enjoy them. 
Growing process of carrot from seeds, sprout to mature taproot, life cycle of plant.

Carrots will become “woody” if you wait too long to pull them. Remember the xylem? It will become like wood as it continues to grow. Carrots will not make seeds until the following year, so unless you want seeds, it’s a good idea to pull them when they are ready to eat! But, if you are really ambitious and promise to not forget the carrot plant, leave it in the dirt, water it when it needs water, and see if you can harvest carrot seeds next year. 

If you planted the seeds, I hope it makes you want to grow more veggies. Everyone can grow at least part of their food, even with limited space. This is food that not only nourishes your body but is good for your soul. When you work in a garden, hands in the dirt, it builds a healthy person in many ways. 

Wasn’t that fun? Now that you completed this chapter of The Secret Inside Roots, you are ready for The Secret Inside Stems.

Lots of love,

A photo of the author, Deborah Schreffler

Debbie Schreffler

Veteran Homeschooler, avid gardener, and proud grandma

I believe that you can design a peaceful lifestyle while you homeschool, complete with a garden if you want, and meals that will make the best memories you ever could imagine!

I homeschooled seven kids through high school, starting them all with a lot of planned, hands-on activities. Then, I centered the subjects around the activities. That gave them lots of room for their natural curiosity to be satisfied as they learned about God’s world.

Let me help you teach kids, grow food, and stay calm!

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.Mat 6:33 CSB

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1 thought on “How to Teach an Easy, Yet Meaningful, Lesson About Roots”

  1. WOW! What a fun project for kids to learn about growing veggies. Teaching them early in life can make lasting memories and useful information to put into practice in the future! Thanks for the article Debbie!

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