“Let Nature be your teacher.” – William Wordsworth
<Originally published June 4, 2019>
If I told you that we made Dandelion Play Dough today, you may well wonder what it had to do with the curriculum, but in fact it was one of the best learning experiences for students and teachers alike!
For the past month, our students have been learning about plants through a project-based inquiry unit. We began with a full dissection of an almost-dead daffodil plant, examining all parts of the plant and asking questions along the way. The children were fascinated by being allowed to touch the plant and pull it apart, making it obvious once again that we need to spend more time letting children explore the world around them, close-up.
Our students planted seeds of many varieties, learning about the stages of plant growth as our own plants started growing. Each student developed their own areas of inquiry and were able to expand on class activities through independent and guided research opportunities. For example, one student was fascinated by the different varieties of beans and wondered if they would sprout bean plants that looked different and how he would be able to differentiate different plans. This led to more hands-on learning as we worked together to develop ways to figure out the answer to this problem. Through this exploration, this student was able to develop skills in multiple disciplines, including non-fiction reading, report writing, scientific diagram sketching and labeling, measurement, and more.
Spring was the perfect opportunity to bring this inquiry into the classroom, since the local parks and even our own front yard could become a natural extension of our classroom. We watched the first crocuses and tulips pushed their way into the sunshine on our daily neighbourhood walks. We spent a day at High Park, learning about the attraction of Cherry Blossoms and exploring the budding trees and the birds, newly arrived from their winter migrations.
On a beautiful spring afternoon in mid-May, we noticed that our local park was blanketing in gorgeous yellow dandelions. The fields of green and yellow seemed to stretch forever, providing us an opportunity to reflect on the absolute beauty of the natural world around us. We noticed bees enjoying the first flowers of spring and the birds enjoying pecking through the grass for special treats. We decided to seize the opportunity and learn more about how dandelions are so much more than just a weed, including how they can be used as a simple natural dye.
Each student agreed to pick 10 dandelions each, leaving plenty in the park for the bees and butterflies. We took them back to school and looked closer at the stems and flower heads, deciding that the flowers alone would probably give us the best chance to achieve a more vibrant yellow colour. Preparing play-dough our normal way, we decided to blend the dandelion flowers with the water, achieving a sort of paste that mixed easily with the rest of the ingredients. The best part was when it was ready and we got our hands on it! The texture was fantastic! So many little bits of petals and leaves that could be seen throughout the gorgeous soft yellow dough, as if emphasizing the importance of getting our hands literally ON what we are learning.
It’s just natural.
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