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The Plant Sitter

The Plant Sitter

Author: Gene Zion
Illustrator: Margaret Graham
ISBN: 0370007549
Summary:  A little boy's adventures in plant sitting for his neighbors.

Literature Based Unit by Christy Herbert


Galatians 6:7-10 reaping what we sow.  Look at the plant sitter. He did more then just water the plants. He learned how to take care of them, which ones needed shade and which ones needed sunlight. He also pruned them and took cuttings to share the plants. He went above and beyond what was expected of him and his duties. At the end of the story he “reaped what he sowed” and everyone went away happy.


How you think people would feel if you did more then you were asked to do? Try doing an extra chore or something service related that is unexpected.


Social Studies


Character Building-- Industry and Responsibility
Tommy was diligent in his duties to take good care of what was entrusted to him. Are we diligent and faithful to complete our tasks? What are our chores and duties?


Character Building-- Contentment
When father says that they can not go on vacation Tommy doesn’t sit around and whine or pout. He finds something else to do. What alternative activities can we find to do when we can’t do what was planned? Maybe we could make a list of activities to have on hand when those moments arrive.


Problem Solving
What does Tommy do when the plants threaten to over to get out of control?  He searches for answers on how take care of the problem. He goes to the library. Where can we go to find information? Talk about places to find information. Yellow pages,  internet, dictionary, atlas and many more. Where would you find information? Give the older student a list of things to find in various places and require that your student uses a different channel for each piece of research. 


Language Arts

Elements of a Short Story- Climax
Climax is the moment in the story in which the crisis comes to the point of greatest intensity; it also is the peak of emotional response from the reader.   You may want to discuss the climax of another book you have read together before you ask your student to find the climax in this story.  


A simile is a comparison using like or as.  There are three specific similes in the story. Where are they? Can the student think of different ones for the same situations?

Using the Problem Solving lesson above, you may also want to introduce the topic of research with your student.  You may want to assign your older student some plant questions (see the science section) to research for himself.    You could also take your student to the library for a scavenger hunt.

Scavenger Hunt Ideas
Librarian's name
Locate a magazine
Locate your favorite picture book (find out if it is checked in or out)
Locate a book about plants in the non-fiction area
Locate a video about plants
Find the drinking fountain/restroom
Find out where you would go if you were lost


What do plants need to live?  Plants need sun, air, soil, and water.  You can do a simple experiment to test whether or not plants need all four of these.   You will need 6 seeds, 6 clear plastic cups, water, and soil.  Number each one accordingly--

1.  Plant a seed in some soil and place it in the window.  It will have air, soil, and sun, but no water.  Do not water it.
2. Plant a seed in some soil and place it in a dark closet; water it as needed (when the soil is dry).  It will have air, soil, and water, but no sun. 
3. Put a seed in a cup (do not add the dirt), add water, and place it in the window.  It will have air, sun, and water, but no soil. 
4.  Plant a seed in some soil.  Add water but before you place it in the window, put it in a plastic bag.  It will not have air.  Do not open the bag again.
5-6 Plant seeds in soil and place them in the window.  Water them every few days as needed.  These plants will have all four of their needs met.

You can ask you student to hypothesize which plants will grow.  You can also record your daily observations in a journal.  You should get to see seed #3 sprout since it will be in water-- that may be interesting to your student.   You may also want to add plant food to either #5 or #6 and record the differences. 

Plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen while humans breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.  Can your student figure out what would happen if there were no plants? (We would suffocate). 

Plant Propagation by Stem Cuttings
Tommy planted all the cuttings in little flower pots.  ("the book said they would grow" -- if you look very closely on the page with this text, you can see the word in his book says propagation!)  Can a plant really grow from a clipping instead of a seed?  Yes!  This is just a different way to propagate plants.

Propagation by stem cuttings is a method used to reproduce many plants.  Stem cuttings can be easy to root (especially woody ornamental plants).  A greenhouse is not necessary for success; however, maintaining high humidity around the cutting is critical. If rooting only a few cuttings, you can use a flower pot. Maintain high humidity by placing the pot into a clear plastic bag. The plastic will help keep the humidity high and reduce water loss from the cuttings.  Here is another way to keep humidity high:

Greenhouse/Propagation Project
Materials needed:
2- empty and rinsed 2-liter pop bottles
potting soil
stem cuttings
spray bottle with water
popsicle stick (or stick of some sort) to make a "hole" in your soil
Note: Tommy used "root powder" -- see illustration; you may wish to dip your stem cuttings in a root inducing powder such as Rootone before placing them in the soil.

Using an exact-o knife, cut a small slit in your 2-liter bottle about 1/3 from the top (where the spout is).  Let your student place her scissors in the slit and cut around the bottle (cutting the top off then discard it).  Repeat with the second 2-liter bottle.   Put a few inches of rocks in one of the 2-liter "bottoms" for drainage.   Add about 4 inches of potting soil.  Next, take some fresh clipped stem cuttings (ivy works well, so does philodendron) and let them soak in water for about 30-60 seconds.  Dip them in root powder if you have it.  Make a hole in the soil (using your popsicle stick), and let your student plant the clipping.  Give it a really good drink by spraying it with the water.  Next, take the other 2-liter bottle bottom and place it inside the container that is holding your plant.  This creates a greenhouse effect and will provide the humidity that your plant needs.  Check your plant once a week for water (you will see it condense on the sides -- and this can provide an opportunity for discussion on the water cycle!) making sure it is still moist (however, too much water can drown a plant).   Once the plant starts to root, you can re-pot it in a different container and it should grow, grow, grow!   Have fun exploring the world of plant propagation!

Encourage your older student to make many greenhouses and plant various clippings.  As he works on this project, he should keep a journal for each different plant (he may want to number each greenhouse).  You may even want to encourage him to keep a true science journal (including accurate data collection and observations; the writing should be such that someone else could replicate his project and expect to obtain similar results; make sure to include daily observations, procedures, and conclusions).  You may also want to encourage him to keep a photographic record of his activities to include in his science journal. 

Just for Fun-- Grass Person
Grass Seed
Potting Soil
Terra Cotta Pot and saucer
Acrylic Paint, Paintbrush

Let your child paint a face on the terra cotta pot.  After it dries, put a few rocks or some gravel in the bottom of the pot.  Fill it with potting soil  Sprinkle grass seed on top and keep it moist.  Place it in a sunny spot.  When the grass starts to grow, your child can give his grass person a haircut!

Research Options
Your older student can research and find the answers to the following questions--

How do plants reproduce?

What is pollination?

Why do most plants need sunlight?


Skip Counting by twos or Multiplication and a Story Problem
"I get two cents a day for each plant I take care of..."
With your younger student, you may want to teach skip counting by twos.  Then, count a few pages worth of plants to hypothesize how much Tommy made each day. 

With your older student, decide how long you think Tommy took care of the plants (2 weeks? 1 month?).    Also, determine how many plants Tommy took care of (just take an educated guess after counting up some of the plants on the pages).   Now you are ready to make your own story problem.   If Tommy was a plant sitter for 30 days and took care of 55 plants, how much money did Tommy make?  (put your own numbers in then help your student calculate Tommy's earnings -- 30x55x.02= ).  You may want to do this problem a few different times using different numbers.

Art: Color Mixing
Look through the illustrations with your student.  What colors does Margaret Graham use?  (blue, green, and yellow).  Give your student some blue and yellow paint (this may lead you into a discussion of primary/secondary colors) and a "pallet"  -- let your student see how many different shades of green/blue/yellow can be made by mixing blue and yellow.  What happens if he only adds a drop of blue to the yellow?  What happens if he adds two drops?  What does the color look like if he adds a drop of yellow to blue?   After he has mixed up many different colors of paint, encourage him to paint his own picture.

You may want to check out other books illustrated by Margaret Graham to compare/contrast these illustrations to others she has done.

Just For Fun
As the plants over take parts of the house we see Tommy imagining things, like have a picnic in the woods and swimming in a lake in the forest. What fun! What an adventure. Go on a picnic. Decorate a room so that it looks like some place exotic.


Library List
Plants That Never Ever Bloom by Ruth Heller

Dig and Sow! How do plants grow?: Experiments in the Garden by Janice Lobb
Janice VanCleave's Plants: Mind-Boggling Experiments You Can Turn Into Science Fair Projects by Janice VanCleave
Let's Grow Things by Deborah Manley
Grow a Plant Pet by Virginie Elbert
The Plant that Kept on Growing by Barbara Brenner
Amazing World of Plants: Question and Answer Book by Elizabeth Marcus
The Enchanted Gardening Book:  Ideas for Using Plants to Beautify Your World, Both Indoors and Out by Alice Herck
Little Green Thumbs by Mary An Van Hage
Garden Crafts For Kids: 50 Great Reasons to Get Your Hands Dirty by Diane Rhoades
Plant Plumbing: A Book About Roots and Stems by Susan Blackaby
Green and Growing: A Book About Plants by Susan Blackaby

The Magic School Bus Gets Planted (video)
The Magic School Bus Goes to Seed (video)

In the Hands of a Child Plants Pack