I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.
Observe mushrooms, learn their parts, taste mushrooms, learn how they reproduce, create a mushroom craft, create dough, blow up a balloon using yeast, and more in this fun, hands-on lesson plan on the fungi kingdom. This lesson is geared toward elementary level children and has adjustments for teaching at a preschool level. I created this to do with a weekly homeschool co-op class which meets for 40 minutes. Use this fun lesson with your classroom, family, after school program, camp, or homeschool group!
Yeast & Bread Dough
1. What do you think of when you think of fungi? [Allow children to answer.]
- Most people think mushrooms are the largest group of fungi, but they're not.
- What do you think is the largest group of fungi? [Hold up a packet or jar of yeast.] Yes! Sac fungi, yeasts & mildew, are the largest group of fungi.
2. Let's make bread dough. Who has made bread at home before?
- [Show a container of yeast.] Yeast is alive. It's just sleeping. What do you like to have after you wake up? Yes, breakfast. Who likes really sugary cereals or sweet treats for breakfast? So does yeast. To help the yeast wake up, we're going to give the yeast some sugar for breakfast.
- Before yeast has breakfast, it needs to have a nice, warm bath first. The water has to be just perfect. It needs to be 105° F–115° F (41° C–46° C) to help it wake up. If the water is too cold, 100° F (38° C) or lower, its cell walls will release an amino acid called glutathione, and that will make our dough sticky and hard to handle. If the water is too hot 130° F (55° C) or higher, our yeast will die.
- Children will get to take turns putting items into a mixing bowl. Everyone won't get to do something now, but everyone will eventually get a turn doing something.
- In a bowl add 1 1/2 cups of hot water. It must be 105° F–115° F (41° C–46° C). (For the PreK class, only an adult should pour the hot water.)
- Pour in 2 teaspoons instant or Rapid Rise yeast. (The jarred variety rises more than the packets but the packet yeast will work.)
- Add in 1 teaspoon of sugar. Gently mix and then set aside for about 10 minutes to allow the "yeast to wake up & have some breakfast."
YOU WILL NEED: Instant or Rapid Rise yeast, mixing bowl, 1 tsp. sugar, mixing spoon, liquid measuring cup with hot water, & thermometer (we used a candy thermometer)
Yeast in a Bottle & Yeast Observation
3. Eventually we'll add some flour to that mixture. What do you think will happen? Yes, it will start to rise. Let's see how the yeast will make the dough rise.
- Pour 1/2 cup of hot water into a plastic or glass bottle. The water must be 105° F–115° F (41° C–46° C). (For the PreK class, only an adult should pour the hot water.)
- Allow children to take turns using a funnel to pour 1/4 tsp. of sugar and 1 tsp. baker's yeast into the bottle.
- Quickly place a deflated (stretched, inflated & deflated) balloon over the mouth of the bottle. Gently swirl.
- If teaching PreK, allow the children to gently squish the balloon and feel that it's not inflated.
- Remember what this balloon looks like. At the end of class, it will look different.
YOU WILL NEED: a plastic or glass bottle with a mouth that is small enough for a balloon to fit over it, a liquid measuring cup with 1/2 cup of hot water, funnel, measuring spoons, 1/4 tsp. sugar, 1 tsp. baker's yeast, & a deflated (stretched, inflated & deflated) balloon
4. Pass out a bit of yeast to each child. Let them smell, taste, & look at (using a magnifying glass) the yeast.
YOU WILL NEED: yeast and magnifying glasses
Adding flour & mixing the dough
5. Continue making the bread dough.
- Allow children to observe the yeast/sugar/water mixture in the bowl. Does it look different? How?
- Allow children to take turns adding 3 cups (not packed) of flour, 1 tsp of sugar, and 1 tsp. salt to the bowl of yeast/sugar/water.
- Everyone gets a turn mixing the dough 10 times.
- Look at what the dough looks like right now. Pay attention to where the dough is in the bowl. It will look different at the end of the class.
- Place a kitchen towel over the bowl and set it aside.
YOU WILL NEED: yeast/sugar/water mixture from before, mixing spoon, 3 cups (not packed) of flour (bread flour or all-purpose), 1 tsp. of sugar, 1 tsp. salt, and a kitchen towel
Option 1: Observing Mushrooms & Bracket Fungi
6. Pass out wild mushrooms and bracket fungi for children to observe.
- (If teaching PreK, look at the option below)
- Observe the mushrooms: What do they smell like? Do some smell more than others? What do they look like? What's the same about them? How are they different? Do you notice anything different when you look at them using a magnifying glass?
- Allow children to break them open. What do you notice about the insides?
- Look at the bracket fungi. Break them apart. Do they seem alive? How are they different from mushrooms? Where have you seen them outside?
- Bracket fungi (also called shelf fungi) grows on trees & rotting logs. They grow more slowly than mushrooms & don’t have gills.
YOU WILL NEED: magnifying glasses, paper or other item for a table cover, & mushrooms* and bracket fungi
*I picked mushrooms from around our yard and from a nearby forest trail and also asked the children to bring ones from home. Mushrooms are not poisonous to touch. Very few are poisonous to EAT. Most of the poisonous ones will upset your stomach or cause you to vomit. Only a very tiny faction of wild mushrooms will kill you if you eat them. There are lots of apps available that can easily identify the mushrooms if you point your phone's camera at them.
Option 2: PreK Option: Observing Mushrooms
6. If teaching a PreK class, you can let them hold and smell the wild mushrooms if desired OR you can simply let them observe the wild mushrooms and then hold "dissect" edible ones purchased ones from the store.
YOU WILL NEED: wild mushrooms, mushrooms purchased from a grocery store, and magnifying glasses
Parts of & Identification Mushrooms
7. After children have made their initial observations of mushrooms, discuss mushroom parts. (I included some photos from books while talking.)
- Who knows what the word is for the study of fungi? (mycology) Say that word with me.
- Mushrooms and bracket fungi are both types of Club Fungi.
- Parts: Cap (like a baseball cap), hymenophore (including gills), stalk, mycelium [body] (each strand is called a hyphae).
(Stop here if teaching this to a preschool class.)
- [Show an apple -- or any other fruit.] Is this apple an apple plant? No, it's just the FRUIT of an apple tree. The mushrooms we're looking at are really just like the fruit of a mushroom plant. Mushrooms aren't the main part of the mushroom. Mycelium is! Mycelium isn’t the root system. It’s the main part of the mushroom.
- There's still a lot to learn and discover about fungi. Currently the largest living thing that's been measured is the Armillaria ostoyae, or honey mushroom, found in Oregon. It's about four square miles (10 square kilometers).
- If you're trying to identify a mushroom, what might you look at? Yes, their color, cap shape, gills, & stem shape.
- Who found mushrooms? Where did you find them? Probably decaying mats of leaves, piles of dead tree limbs, or where remains of dead plants are found. Mushrooms are fungi, & most fungi are saprophytic = decomposers that help decay once-living matter.
- Mushrooms are usually found best after rain.
- Mushrooms are not poisonous to touch. Very few are poisonous to EAT. Most of the poisonous ones will upset your stomach or cause you to vomit. Only a very tiny faction of wild mushrooms will kill you if you eat them. It's always best to not eat mushrooms outside that you find unless your parents are with you & tell you they're okay to eat.
- Why aren't mushrooms plants? (They're heterotrophs & can’t make their own food.)
- Fungi digest their food outside their bodies. Fungus grows on & in its food, secreting a chemical onto the food that digests it before it’s ingested. The digested food is then absorbed into the cells of the fungus.
- Unlike plants and animals, members of the fungus kingdom absorb their food from other living or dead things.
- How are many very beneficial to nature? Most are saprophytes – organisms that obtain nourishment from dead organisms. They're decomposers, breaking down complex molecules of plants & animals into simpler ones that can be used by other living organisms.
- How are many very beneficial to our environment? Mycelium has the ability to cleanse pollutants from soil & water. Mycelium seeks out nutrients & doesn’t stop until it's used up all the nutrients it can find. It will eat its way through pollutants in the soil. Fungi can also be put into a lake filled with too much algae, where the mycelium will catch the bacteria, break down the particles & thereby filter the water. They can even clean up after oil spills!
- How are mushrooms used to indicate the health of soil and surrounding plants? There is ongoing research showing that mushrooms might be bio-indicators of the health of trees and surrounding plants. Researchers are studying how the growth of mushrooms indicate healthy soil for trees and other plants to grow in.
Zombie Ant Fungus
8. (Optional) Briefly talk about the Zombie Ant Fungus, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. (I didn't include this when teaching preschoolers.)
- There's also a fascinating fungus called the Zombie Ant Fungus. It can only affect one specific type of wood ant. When the spore gets in an ant's body, it spreads all over and controls the ant's brain. The ant leaves the colony, climbs a tree, and attaches her mandibles to a leaf. A mushroom sprouts from the ant's body and more spores drop out on top of other ants.
- What's even more bizarre is that there's another fungus that only affects the Zombie Ant Fungus. It makes it so the Zombie Ant Fungus can't reproduce. It's God amazing?
YOU WILL NEED: a picture of an ant affected by the Zombie Ant Fungus
9. Clean up. Everyone should wash their hands well. While children are washing their hands, helpers can collect the mushrooms and magnifying glasses from the tables.
YOU WILL NEED: soap and water
Mushroom Craft for PreK
10. If teaching this to preschoolers, include a Fly Agaric mushroom craft.
- Show a picture of fly agaric mushrooms (Amanita muscaria), which is a poisonous but rarely deadly mushroom. This type of mushroom often shows up in fairy-tale books. It got its name because some people in Europe used it use it to kill flies. They'd put the cap in milk. That would attract flies and the poison in the mushroom would kill the flies.
- Pass out paper plates that were already painted red.
- Allow children to use a Q-tip dipped in white paint to add white dots to the red paint.
- Let them glue a white stem to the underside of the cap.
- Add their names or let them write their own names.
- Advanced Option: If you'd like to do this craft with older children, have additional time, and/or have additional helpers, allow children to paint their paper plates and cut out out their stem from the other half. They can use the very edge of that half as the gills to glue under the red cap. They can also use a black pen or marker to add dots for the ring.
YOU WILL NEED: paper plates that have been cut in half and painted red, Q-tips, white paint, glue, white stems made of paper plates or construction paper, pens or markers
11. Discuss and demonstrate mushroom reproduction.
- Who remembers what plants need to reproduce? Yes, they reproduce from seeds, created when pollen and eggs come together.
- Mushrooms reproduce using spores.
- At reproduction a stalk of tightly bound hyphae with an umbrella-shaped, spore-forming cap rises quickly out of the ground. Together the stalk & cap make up the fruiting body.
- The underside of cap has many gills, each containing hundreds of club-shaped basidia (each containing 4 spores = over 1 billion spores released by 1 mushroom)
- Puffballs known for releasing lots of spores, up to 7 trillion!
- Just like with mushrooms, bracket fungi reproduce using spores. The spores fall from holes on underside of fruiting body & are spread by the wind.
12. Puffballs & some mushrooms shoot out their spores. Let's demonstrate that.
- Ahead of time, stretch a balloon so that it inflates easily. Do not tie off the end of the balloon. Insert craft pom poms through the opening in the neck of the balloon. Continue putting the pom poms into the balloon until the balloon is almost full. Inflate the balloon and tie a knot in its neck to keep the air inside.
- Tape the knotted end of the balloon to the top of a stick or sturdy straw. Put the bottom of the stick into the modeling clay or play-doh so that the stick stands upright.
- In class show the children the puffball mushroom model. What does the balloon represent? (the mushroom) The stick/straw (the stem) The pom poms? (spores)
- Allow a student to stick the balloon with the pin and watch the "spores" spread around the room.
YOU WILL NEED: a balloon filled with craft pom poms, tape, a stick or sturdy straw, modeling clay or play-dough, & a pin
13. Allow children to taste cooked mushrooms if desired. Mushrooms are delicious and can be served in a variety of ways.
- You can either cook something tasty like the above stuffed mushrooms with bacon or you can simply let them try canned mushrooms.
- Remember to never eat mushrooms you find in the wild outside unless your parents are with you and tell you it's okay to eat them.
YOU WILL NEED: a cooked mushroom dish or canned mushrooms and napkins
14. Mold is another type of fungus.
- Look at food items with mold. What do you notice?
- Does all mold look the same? How so? Why do you think they look different?
- How do you think it would change if we looked at this again in 2 days?
- Who's seen moldy bread at your house? Even it only a little bit of mold is growing on one piece, that doesn't mean the rest of the slice is okay to eat. The fuzzy parts of mold you see on bread are colonies of spores — which is how the fungus reproduces. Though you may only see a few spots of the fungus, its hypahe (the microscopic threads that look like roots) have spread much further in the bread.
- Rhizopus stolonifera is what scientists call bread mold. It's shiny, white hyphae spread by dark-colored spores that burst from spore cases & are carried by the wind. It likes to grow in high humidity, warm temperatures, & darkness.
- Mold is beneficial in that it helps us to produce what tasty product? (some cheeses like blue cheese)
YOU WILL NEED: food items with mold on them (make sure the items have been sealed in clear plastic baggies so children don't inhale the mold spores)
Fermentation of Yeast
15. What happened to the yeast balloon?
- As the yeast eats, fermentation occurs. Fermentation is the process of converting sugar into alcohol & carbon dioxide. As the yeast feeds on the sugar, it produces carbon dioxide. With no place to go but up, this gas slowly fills the balloon.
YOU WILL NEED: the yeast-filled bottle/balloon from earlier in the class
16. Did the dough rise? It's actually going to continue to rise! In about an hour, it will be at the top of this bowl!
- A very similar process happens as bread rises. Carbon dioxide from the yeast fills thousands of balloon-like bubbles in the dough.
- What happens when you put too much air in a balloon? Yes, it pops! That's what leaves all those holes in the bread. The yeast's carbon dioxide "balloons" blow up so big, pushing out all that dough. The "balloons" or pockets of carbon dioxide gas eventually "pop," leaving those holes in your bread.
- We don't have enough time to bake this bread, so you can instead inspect these slices of French loaf from the store.
- Pass out slices of bread to each child. Let them observe the bubbles and then taste eat the bread.
YOU WILL NEED: the dough from earlier and sliced bread for children to eat
17. Read and discuss Matthew 13:33. Now that we've learned about yeast, what do you think Jesus meant?
18. Quickly review today what you learned about the Fungi Kingdom.
19. AFTER AN HOUR, bake the bread dough. I placed it on a parchment-lined baking sheet, forming it into a long rectangle, and baked it in a preheated 375 degrees F oven for 30 minutes. My children enjoyed it with jam.
Our Favorite Children's Books on Fungi
- Beatrix Potter, Scientist by Lindsay H. Metcalf
- The Mushroom Fan Club by Elise Gravel
- Fungarium by Ester Gaya
- The Mushroom Hunt by Simon Frazer
- Katya's Book of Mushrooms by Katya Arnold
- Plants that Never Ever Bloom by Ruth Heller
- Fungus Is Among Us! by Joy Keller
- Humongous Fungus by DK
- We Are Fungi by Christine Nishiyama
- Bread Lab! by Kim Binczewski
Fun, FREE Hands-on Unit Studies - Over the years I have posted over 40 science and social-studies based unit studies, compromised of more than 170 lessons. For each lesson I have included activities (with photos), our favorite books and YouTube video clips, lapbook links, and other resources. I posted links to all of my unit studies and lessons at the above link.
© 2021 Shannon