As winter melts away into spring, keep your eyes open for those early spring blooms - crocus, daffodil and hyacinth. They'll signal that it's time to get out and dig in the soil.

To children, gardening is a bit like magic. One simply puts seeds, those little packages of mystery, into soil and after waiting for a loooong time, as much as two weeks, little plants peek up into the world.

You can capture some of that mystery and magic with these four mini-gardening projects:

  1. Sunflower Houses

    Sunflowers are magnificent things to plant because they have a short germination time, as little as seven days, and they grow spectacularly tall. Children will love planting their sunflower home and then watching it grow inch by inch over the coming months. You can even do a little mapping and graphing as the home is planned. And then, when the magic is done, the kids can play in the house all day and sleep out in their sleeping bags at night.

    How to Build a Sunflower House

  2. Gourds on a Fence

    Planting a row of gourds along a fence line is a great way to enjoy the growth of these beautiful and varied plants. Kids love their beautiful colors and shapes. Gourds need to grow and mature until all the greenery has dried up. Then, when the gourds are thoroughly dry, you can use them for decoration or for rhythm instruments, or hollow them out to make homegrown birdhouses.

    Ginny's Gourds

  3. Pumpkins to Jack-o-Lanterns

    Pumpkin seeds are easy to plant in mounds of soil with seeds spaced four to five inches apart. They'll grow all summer long and bloom with their trademark orange blossoms. Then in the fall they turn from green globes to nice, fat orange pumpkins. Use them for cooking pies and tarts, but be sure to set aside several to hollow out and carve into Halloween jack-o-lanterns.

    allaboutpumpkins.com

  4. Succulents in Clam Shells

  5. Succulents are those interesting plants that retain water in their fat leaves and come in all shapes and sizes. They are the "hens and chicks", the sedums and sempervivums that look like green roses. These plants, especially when grouped together, make truly lovely arrangements. The fun part is they can grow in a minimum of soil and are perfect for a kid project. Take a large shell (or other interesting container), and drill several small holes in the bottom for drainage. Then place a layer of wet sphagnum moss in the bottom. Top with potting soil and then add several succulent plants close together. These make nice gifts, or just place them in a spot where you and your children can enjoy them throughout the year.

    simplysucculents.com

You can spark your family's interest in the great outdoors with these and similar gardening projects. For more fun projects to do together see kidsgardening.org.

Great Introductory Gardening Books for Kids

  • "Garden to Table: A Kids' Guide to Planting, Growing and Preparing Food" by Katherine Hengel.
  • "Gardening Lab for Kids: 52 Fun Experiments to Grow, Harvest and Enjoy Your Garden" by Renata Fossen Brown.
  • "Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots: Gardening Together with Kids" by Sharon Lovejoy.
  • "Square Foot Gardening with Kids" by Mel Bartholomew.

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Jan Pierce, M.Ed., is a freelance writer specializing in education, parenting and family life articles. She is the author of "Homegrown Readers: Simple Ways to Help Your Child Learn to Read" and "Homegrown Family Fun,". Both available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.