STEM Nature Box: Sort, Categorize, And Learn

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We live in an apartment in the city but are lucky enough to have a terrace we fill with green! Our home is full of easy-to-care for plants and even random beans and lentils that sprout because our daughter plays with them outside. We make sure to bring nature into our life even when living in the city because it is so important for children (and us adults too). Tending to plants is a lovely way to connect with nature with your children. We water the plants together, deadhead them too (work on scissor skills), we even repot plants together, try to grow cuttings and plant lentils and beans. These last ones are great! They grow really fast and you can use them in nature activities like the one I will explain below. It is the perfect activity to learn about plants and to sneak in some STEM skills through play! So read on to find out how to create your own STEM Nature Box.

nature stem activity

Easy STEM Nature Box Activity

You can separate this activity into two so that you can have your kids happy and entertained twice! 


If you live close to nature go for a nature walk and collect all sorts of plants and flowers. Pull some out with the roots if you can. If your kids are into it don’t limit it to gathering plants, include sticks, pinecones, stones… The activity will focus on plants but it can include other things too! 

If you live in the city and don’t have a chance to get to nature easily don’t worry! You will have to do some planting first, wait for it to grow, and then go ahead with the activity. Even if you have nature close by, gardening and planting seeds is great to do with children. You can use this later in the activity to remind them of how plants grow and they will love seeing that little green sprout coming out of the soil. So go ahead and plant beans or lentils as soon as you can so you can eventually do the activity. You won’t get any flowers but you will be able to pull the plant out and check the roots out!! 

STEM Nature Box

The idea behind this activity is that you are preparing food for animals in a STEM Nature box. You can stick to just plants in the box or you can add anything to it. We added lentils and oats and even shells that we had collected from the beach.

nature stem activity


  • Plants
  • Tray to put the plants before sorting them (optional)
  • Additional “food”: sticks, stones, dry food such as lentils or oats
  • Box (we used an old wine box but any shoe box will do)
  • Scissors
  • Animals, dolls or toys that will be “fed”

Once you have collected all the wonderful natural materials lay them all out on a tray and see if your kid is interested in preparing food for the animals. My daughter loves farm animals and feeding them so this was a perfect activity for her and it kept her entertained for a long time! At this point you can do two things:

  • Invite them to feed the animals and let them do it their own way
  • Guide the activity

It’s really up to you and kids really learn through playing and exploring. Check out The Do’s And Don’ts of Free Play: A STEM Perspective for more information. With my 3-year-old, I just let her organize and separate with minimal guidance. As she separated we talked about what she was doing and I showed her the different parts of the plants and that was enough. Having said this, if you want to guide the activity a bit more here are my suggestions:

stem nature box

Sneak in some STEM:

  • Get your kids to separate the different parts of the plants into leaves, stems, roots, flowers and make different piles in your box for different animals. By doing this your kids are practicing sorting, organizing and categorizing and learning the different parts of the plant. 
  • Have some nature talks: Remind them how you planted the beans/lentils and you watered them and they eventually grew into plants. You can ask them things like  “which part of the plant do you think was in charge of taking in the water?” “How long was the stem before the leaves started to grow?” 
  • Once you see the activity is coming to an end you can ask them again what they fed each animal (stems, leaves, flowers, roots?) 

By handling the plants with their hands, having planted them beforehand, you are giving your child the chance to really experience the world they live in. And by turning it into a game of “feeding the animals” they are learning through play. Talking and asking questions while they play, or once they are done will get them to reflect on how plants grow and will reinforce a way to look at things (by categories).

nature stem activity

We talked about the different parts of the plants. We observed how some leaves were brown and talked about why. She even referred to the roots later on and said “the doggie likes roots” and picked some out for the toy dog. Once the sorting was done, my daughter decided she wanted to put food in a bowl so she brought out some plastic containers and we made a soup together by adding water! Creating a wonderful messy and sensory experience!! Let them guide the playtime now and just enjoy and explore with them.

More Fun Activities and Games:

Happy STEM learning!

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