Learning by Accident

Temporary Inconveniences for Long-Term Benefits

Raising kids is a long series of TILTBs.

disney cookbook

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The kids have the Disney Royal Recipe Collection cookbook, and their favorite recipe in it is for Sandy Scoops (brought to you by Ariel and her Under the Sea Snacks). Invariably, this results in cinnamon and sugar on the table and the floor, and dirty measuring spoons, cutting boards, and cookie sheets on the counter. (We are working on making dishwasher-loading part of the kids’ kitchen expertise, but that’s a whole other issue.) But it also results in the kids using measuring tools in two different sizes, cutting tortillas by themselves to the size they want it to be (they favor pizza cutters for this, so they are also learning to differentiate between what tools are best and easiest for them to use), and safely removing a hot pan from the toaster oven (if I have been slow on dishwasher training, I feel like I’ve made up for it on ensuring that they remember to turn the toaster oven off).

But it’s more than making a tasty snack all by themselves. Sure, there’s the mathematics-education value of how 1/4 vs. whole-sized measuring spoons compare to one another. There is some science value in observing which pot holders insulate your hand against heat better, or even our discussions about how reflexes keep our extremities safe. And all of that is wonderful, but what it really comes down to, is that my kids can feed themselves. And they know it. They are becoming increasingly comfortable in the kitchen (and we aren’t neglecting the grocery store, either), and I know that whatever else is going on in their lives – they can eat.

There are lots of things that are important life skills, and I have forgotten that there is so much to learn. I don’t think I realized at the time that I was learning life skills, but now I am acutely aware that the kids need to learn these things to be the confident, capable, and successful people it is our privilege to help them become.

Sugar on the floor, crumbs in the butter, tomato sauce splattered on the stovetop, strange ingredients in the fridge, and a pile of dirty dishes are inconvenient. But the benefits are so worth it.


Self-Watering Pots

My Daisy Girl Scouts completed their “Welcome to the Daisy Flower Garden” journey this year. One of the obstacles I’ve seen on several Scouting forums, was the difficulty of having the little ones maintain a garden for the school year. Creating a garden plot wasn’t feasible for our troop, and we only meet twice per month, so I was concerned with keeping the plants alive in pots without frequent watering.

Enter the self-watering pot. I got the basic idea from this youtube video by Growing Little Ones:


They are working with a scale much larger than we wanted, though – we needed something windowsill-sized and portable. Here is our modification:


  • 1 qt food storage container (tall)
  • 8 oz water bottle
  • 2 cotton fabric strips; length is twice the height of the water bottle, about an inch in width
  • ½” diameter plastic pipe or tubing (I used PVC conduit pipe because it’s cheaper and we were growing flowers, but I would use plumbing-grade tubing or pvc to plant edibles.)
  • potting soil
  • marigold seeds
  • coffee grounds, mixed in with the dirt


Focus Points

  • Daisy “responsible for what I say and do” garden, to accommodate watering only during meetings (Mari the marigold – orange petal!)
  • Using resources wisely


  • We drank the water during our snack time at the meeting prior, and had the girls label their bottles with their names, so they could see that we were re-using them (resources).
  • The fabric strips were cut from an old t-shirt (resources). I use vinegar as an alternative to fabric softener – I have seen others observe that fabric softener seems to affect the way fabrics wick water, but I don’t have first-hand observation of how that will compare in this situation.
  • You can use fresh coffee grounds, but we used some from the coffee maker, so we could again be using something otherwise bound for the trash. Marigolds like acidic soil, and commercial soil tends to be neutral. Coffee grounds will raise the acidity just enough to make the marigolds happy.
  • Cut the pipe or tubing into lengths just long enough to break the surface of the soil once the bottle is put into the plastic container and the soil is filled to the top; about 3 inches.
  • Poke a couple of small holes in the bottom of the containers; the soil needs to be moist, but not water-logged.


  • Have the girls write their names on the storage containers using paint or a silver pen – the dirt will be dark, and a black or blue pen won’t show up. This will be the flower pot.
  • Drop the ends of the fabric strips into the empty water bottles. The ends need to touch the inside bottom of the bottles. Drape the other end of the fabric on the outside of the bottle. This is the water reservoir and wick.
  • Insert the plastic pipe or tubing into the water bottle. It will be a tight fit – you will have to work it in carefully to avoid crushing the bottle. It only needs to go in far enough to secure the fabric and provide a means of filling the reservoir. (The guys at Lowe’s who helped me find the right size pipe and a couple of my troop parents all observed that at this point, it resembles what they image a molotov cocktail would look like.)
  • Put the bottle into the bottom of the container.


  • Fill the container with dirt. (Try not to get a lot of dirt in the reservoir.) Make sure there are no air pockets, or the soil will not wick properly. Don’t lift the wicks, just let the dirt cover everything.
  • Plant your seeds.
  • Fill the reservoir (use a funnel).
  • Place in sunny windowsill, with the container lid underneath.



  • We discovered that this setup was just the right size to last about two weeks, but when we had a larger gap between meetings, the caretaker had to refill the reservoirs in the meantime.
  • The first time you fill them, the soil will wick enough water to leak quite a bit, and it will happen again if you let the soil dry out between reservoir refills. If the soil remains moist, though, leaks will remain minimal.
  • The girls also got to witness two fun phenomena: the windowsill they were on was very wide, and the heat vent blew directly on half of the windowsill, but not the other half. The reservoirs under the heat vent needed more water to fill them, since the soil was drying out faster. Also, as part of their plant caretaking, the girls found they had to turn the plants during meetings – mine were amused to find their plants “streeeeetching for the sun.”

Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.  -John W. Gardner