This is the last weekend of the school year, and as I attend to my remaining responsibilities, I paused to reflect on what went well this year – what worked. I am convinced that children learn the most from the teacher’s passion. When a teacher is truly excited about something, teaching is authentic, and the energy engages children and invites them to enter a space of wonder and joy. I love to abide with children in such a living, inspired space. It makes my time in the classroom feel worthwhile. So, as I reflect on the year, I looked for where I was able to breathe new life into the curriculum, fueled by what I love. This year, it was flowers – sunflowers, in particular.
I spent last summer observing and photographing sunflowers that popped up around our yard. I was fascinated by the pattern, blooming, and pollination of all the tiny flowers.
There were so many sunflowers in our yard, and we didn’t have to do a thing. The birds did it all for us! My husband is serious about feeding the birds throughout the winter and buys mass quantities of sunflower seeds. In the course of their daily business, the birds managed to scatter them all over the yard. Many of the seeds developed into large plants with impressive blooms (that delighted the bees immensely). In time, the seed heads drooped, and the birds feasted on the mature seeds. So by summer’s end, all the seeds that had grown into flowers had become mini bird feeders.
I was fascinated and excited by the whole process, and when the school year began, I wanted to share my love of sunflowers with my students. I cut a few seed heads from the stems and brought them in for our nature table.
I provided magnifying lenses for the children to use to examine the sunflower colors, patterns, textures, and anatomy. Eventually, one of the children asked if it was all right to remove some seeds. At first, I wanted them simply to observe them, but one morning – in response to their natural enthusiasm – I allowed small groups of children to work on removing the seeds after completing their morning work. It was a highly engaging fine-motor activity that maintained their interest for quite some time. It made my heart happy to see them engaged so contentedly with a gift from nature.
One small group had begun to sort the parts they had removed, and I encouraged them to continue. Next thing I knew, the other groups had followed their lead.
They were so proud of the work they did emptying and sorting!
Each day, they wanted more sunflower heads to de-seed, but I had run out, for the birds had picked out all the seeds from the remaining flowers in our yard. So a mom sent in a bunch of sunflowers from her family’s property, and the fun continued. She sent in quite a few, and when the novelty seemed to have worn off, I put aside the rest and moved on to other activities. The dried sunflowers remained in a sack in a corner of the classroom throughout the winter, largely forgotten.
In the spring, we learned about plants and flowers. I asked the children if they’d like to plant and care for seeds of their own (“YES!!!”) and asked them what kind of seeds they would like to plant. Well, every child wanted to plant sunflower seeds. And then I remembered the abandoned flowers in the corner. They planted, watered, and thinned the seeds, and took home their cups when the plants were a few inches tall.
I used the thinning process as an opportunity for the children to observe the root system. Each child determined which seedling seemed healthiest, and we pulled out the other one gently, to keep the roots intact. I displayed them on the nature table for the day with a magnifying glass and took a picture so I could refer to it on the SMART Board.
We created Sharpie and crayon-watercolor resist scientific illustrations of flowers. (I discovered this activity on my favorite teaching website, Fairy Dust Teaching.) The photo below is from a previous year when I gave the children the conventional spelling of the parts. This year, I let them sound-spell the labels.
In accordance with the ELA Common Core, we are required to have our students complete an informational writing sample, and this year, I had my students write about flowers. They used their scientific illustration as step one of the writing assignment. Step two was filling in a graphic organizer.
Step three was the final, written piece.
The bottom line is that we ended up getting a lot of mileage from the sunflowers I brought in for our nature table! Looking back, this is the area in which I felt the curriculum was most vibrant this year. These activities are keepers – and required no prep work on my part. Gifts from nature are the best!
And on that note, here’s a card the children made for Mother’s Day. I showed them some of my images of morning glories unrolling and opening movement by movement, and they wanted to give their moms some morning glory seeds that I had saved from last year’s crop.
And there you have it: My flower-powered curriculum!
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