Children in a preschool classroom are fascinated by houseplants that have soft textures, brightly colored blooms or fuzzy leaves. Houseplants can foster conversations with kids about how plants grow, because when children see the regular care given to houseplants, they often ask questions about why and how you're caring for them.
A number of houseplants are generally regarded as safe and non-toxic for humans and are also interesting to small children. They are also safe in the sense that each has a soft texture with no thorns or spikes that could hurt a small child. In addition, the plants discussed here are non-toxic to dogs and cats.
While these house plants are non-toxic, they should never be eaten because they can cause unexpected allergic reactions. In addition, systemic pesticides are sometimes used to grow them, so even a non-toxic plant can contain harmful chemicals.
African Violets are fun to touch because they have furry leaves that kids can pet. While they should not be touched regularly because touching disrupts plant growth, the fuzzy texture can be a fun way of drawing kids in for a teaching moment about how plants grow. They're easy to grow and flower readily for even novice growers. They prefer bright indirect light, ideally a west window in summer and an east or south window in winter.
African violets like to stay moist and should be watered with tepid water. Avoid watering the foliage; instead tuck the watering spout beneath the leaves to water. African violets prefer to be moderately pot-bound, so it is easiest to keep them in a plastic pot so when they do begin bulging out of the pot, you can cut the pot away to transplant.
Boston Fern/Nephrolepis exaltata bostoniensis
Boston Ferns have a soft texture that rustles in a satisfying way when gently touched, and it is fun for kids to turn over the leaf to see the spores on the underside of each frond. They are easy to grow, but despite their reputation, ferns do not prefer shade when grown indoors. They enjoy bright indirect light inside the home, and need consistently moist soil to thrive. Young ferns may need re-potting every year to prevent them becoming root-bound, but mature specimens can be re-potted every two years.
Boston fern has a loose, drooping habit and is not as erect as many other ferns, which makes it attractive as a hanging plant or on a pedestal. There are other varieties of Nephrolepis exaltata which are also child- and pet-safe. 'Fluffy Ruffles' has more feathery leaflets, while N. smithii is downright frilly.
Christmas Cactus/ Zygocactus truncatus
Bright blooms always catch the eye of small kids, and the ridges along the side of each segment on a Christmas Cactus' stem are fun to touch. Explaining how succulent plants hold water can help kids understand how plants survive in different conditions.
Christmas Cactus have flat, arching stems with leaf-like segments, and they bloom between November and January. They prefer bright indirect light and can get sunburn in direct sunshine.
While Christmas Cactus are easy to keep alive, they do have some specific requirements for good blooming. In February and March after their flowering period, allow the plants to rest by keeping them cool (around 55 degrees Fahrenheit) and watering infrequently. In April and May, treat them as most houseplants by watering deeply when the potting soil dries out. From June through August, set it outdoors in a shady site protected from slugs to help it form next year's flower buds. In September and October, bring it indoors and keep it somewhat dry and cool until you see it has grown flower buds, then increase water and put it in a warmer location. From November through January it will bloom for you.
This sounds difficult, but the most important elements to remember are letting it dry out a bit after bloom, setting it outdoors in shade in summer, and then bringing it inside and keeping it on the dry side until flower buds are set. The rest of the time you can treat it like any other houseplant.