Terrariums with kids (Carbon Cycle- PTOE)

I “C” here, I “C” there, I “C” carbon everywhere!

Carbon is EVERYWHERE….what we eat, breath, and in our bodies. A lot of it we can’t see but we can see carbon in it’s solid form when we barbecue, have an aquarium and make lovely terrariums.

Carbon Cycle Moss Terrariums
Making a moss terrarium is one of my favorite ways to learn about The Carbon Cycle.


You need: small rocks, sand, activated charcoal, dry sphagnum moss, living moss, glass jars (any recycled glass jar with a lid will do, just make sure the top is wide enough for your hand to fit), and little nature treasures or clay figures (like the little guys we made yesterday).


In the following order layer…….

1. Rocks on the bottom of the jar (stressing that rocks are indeed made up of carbon). You also need this layer for drainage, and the rocks do make a pretty layer in the terrarium.

2. Layer some sand on the rocks. More carbon…crushed up rocks, dead organisms and waste products.


3. The activated carbon (charcoal) is the fossil fuel in our carbon cycle, it is over a million years old. The charcoal must be activated charcoal for the moss terrarium to work properly. It will prevent any little beasties from living in and hurting your little carbon life cycle. (I found activated carbon at a super pet store in the aquarium isle.)


4. The dry sphagnum moss layer is another dead and decaying layer, that may turn into carbon one day many million years from now.


5. The living part of our terrarium- the photosynthesizing, water loving moss. The moss depends on CO2 to make food. We depend on the moss for cleaning the air we breath and so much more! We harvested our moss from the base of Araina’s favorite maple tree….left plenty behind. Make sure a little dirt remains attached to the moss.


6. Add any little treasures from nature or make some homemade ones.


7. Add a little water, close the lid and put in a sunny spot. Then you have your own miniature carbon cycle.

We aren’t done with carbon quite yet, more fun with carbon coming next week. To find more PTOE activities check out these activities: riddles, sulphur, and gold.

31 responses to “Terrariums with kids (Carbon Cycle- PTOE)”

  1. Judy Taylor

    I’m so glad I found this sight!! It looks like so much fun, and I can learn and share.

  2. The Fern and Mossery

    Those terrariums are excellent! Check out my blog for tips on keeping them healthy and thriving:
    http://thefernandmossery.blogspot.com/

  3. Jane

    Oh how exciting, we so enjoyed doing the onion activity and now Im looking forward to sharing this idea of building a terrarium with my children. My oldest daughter just made a moss garden with her grandpa so this will go well with that project she did. Thanks so much for your lovely blog it is so fun to come and read all the wonderful posts that you share! Your daughters are so lovely isnt so fun having girls. : )

  4. kenan and tree

    These are great! We made moss terrariums several weeks ago, to help get us through the winter. Ours were very simple with just rocks on the bottom, but they are still doing great! We also made little toadstools out of polymer clay to give them a fairy garden look. Love the pictures!

  5. Sarah

    I think I become a little more addicted to your blog every day! Terrariums are on our to-do list for this spring. I’m definitely going to save this post for inspiration.

  6. Maggie

    I love making terrariums! This is a great lesson idea. Add a tiny bowl of water and you have the evapotranspiration cycle as well.

  7. Shona Leah

    Kobe made a small terrarium in a water bottle about this time last year and it is still looking so healthy! I would LOVE to make a bigger one like you guys!! this will be so much fun! you are super.

  8. Tammy

    Oh wow, those are gorgeous!

  9. kelli

    very cool!! and your model is adorable :-)

  10. Such Lovely Freckles

    Well, you have heard it 21 times before in your comment section. HOW COOL! You rock, and your kids are so lucky to be learning with you.

  11. Melissa

    I found you through Joy’s blog– I can’t wait to sit down with your archives! I love that terrarium– even my two year old can do that! Thanks for sharing.

  12. Dawn

    This is great! I always wondered how to make one these. Thank you.

  13. Stephanie

    So awesome, Lisa!!
    We made a terrarium last year – it’s getting to be that time for another!

  14. Joy

    Wow! That’s awesome! The girls are going to have a great time watching that terrarium. :)

  15. Tara

    Now there is absolutely no excuse for us NOT to make a terrarium… we have your excellent tutorial to use!!

    We have loads of moss on the property and Owen has always wanted to make one.

    Thanks for sharing the how to’s!!

  16. jane

    What a great idea. I´m going to do this with my kids. Thanks!

  17. Crunchy Christian Mom

    Another FABULOUS idea! Hey, I gave you an award. Go look on my blog. :)

  18. Tan Family

    Fabulous! We’ve been talking about doing a terranium and didn’t quite know where to start. Now, we know! Thank you. :)

  19. Louise

    What a great tutorial – very inspiational- well done and you have gorgeous children

  20. Shady Lady

    This is so cool! You totally ROCK!! You are truly an inspiration. I can hardly wait for next week!

  21. Mom and Kiddo

    I love the terrariums. This has been on our list of things to do for a while but I never thought of connecting it to a science lesson about carbon. What a good idea.

  22. angela

    i nominated you for an award.

  23. Annie

    Love you. That sounds like so much fun and I’d really like to do it too. My dh and Lily are talking about elements right now…

  24. ladybug-zen

    very, very cool this is. i am inspired.

  25. Anet

    I love terrariums, we made one last spring with dinosaurs it in.
    Except we didn’t use the charcoal.
    Maybe that’s why it only lasted the summer. Ahhh!
    This is a really cute activity for the carbon cycle- PTOE.
    Thanks for sharing all the PTOE activities, they are wonderful! Looking forward to next week:)

  26. The Magic Onions

    You are amazing! You teach ME! Your kids are going to be presidents or rocket scientists who think outside the box… exactly what we need! And what a gorgeous photo of your littlest… she is adorable!

    PS – I love Dongdong’s comment, LOL… I feel the same… I need that book too!

  27. Erin

    Fascinating. I have so much to learn!

  28. Lisa

    No, these ideas don’t come from the “Elements with Style” book. Just my crazy overactive brain, all about making the PTOE fun and connecting it to nature! :)

  29. jumbleberryjam

    I’ve been wanting to make these for some time. I think your tutorial is excellent. That, combined with my strange burst of creative energy, might just mean I’ll get the job done sooner than later. Thanks for more great inspiration! You’re my hero!!

  30. dongdong

    I love that first and last picture. Arianna is so pretty, love her big brown eyes.

    Do all these experiments come with the book or you come up with them?

  31. Manic Mother

    How cute, I have always wanted to make one. I love the last picture.