Friday, May 6, 2016

Revisiting Flower Deconstruction

One of the magical things about getting to work with a group of children over an extended period of time is being able to return to activities over the course of weeks, months, and years, and see the effects of accumulating experience and knowledge on children's processes.

Last year's spring and summer brought us a fascination with bees.  We explored these fascinating creatures in many ways, and especially loved learning about the way flowers are used by bees as a source of sustenance.   We found that taking apart flowers was one of the best ways to learn about them, how they were made, and what was inside them.  Flower deconstruction became an important part of our investigations into bees, and we became experts at opening up flowers to discover what was inside.
As spring has begun to arrive in Oregon, we have been delighted to find daffodils and other early spring blooms in our garden and all over the yard.  The children continue to be drawn to flowers, to their color, their smell, the uniqueness of each bloom, the process of a seed becoming a plant, which makes a flower, which makes more seeds.  And so, once again, we have started to bring flowers inside to our table in order to take them apart and learn more of what they can teach us.

One afternoon, I covered our table with paper, and laid out several daffodils and a big peach and pink rose.  I placed a pencil at each spot at the table and invited the children to join me.  AJ grabbed a pencil and a daffodil and worked on tracing the whole flower on the paper.  She moved the flower away and said "There!  Now I can see the shape of the flower.  There's a little part and a bigger part.  Not too bigger though."  LP looked at her daffodil for quite some time before separating the bloom from the stem, noticing that there was water inside the stem, "like a straw?" she wondered, beginning a discussion of whether plants need water ("Yes!  That's why we water the garden in the summer!").  There were lots of ideas about how flowers might drink - do they soak up water, like frogs, or drink like us, or some other way?
CC brought in her love of making connections and drawing metaphors between novel and familiar items - noting that the stem she had broken off looked like a paintbrush.  She used the water inside to paint fleeting designs on the white paper before they dried up.  LS diligently worked taking apart the head of the rose, again bringing prior experience to her work as she told her friends "I know there's something in there," and feeling quite proud when she found the pistils and stamens in the center of the petals.  MH used his pencil as a tool, testing the strength of the petals (easy to break), the daffodil stems (tricky, but breakable with a pencil-tip), and the rose stem ("I don't think a pencil can break this!").

The next week, we returned to flower deconstruction.  I had been thinking about MH's use of his pencil as a tool, and decided to offer each child a flower along with some scissors and various other tools.  We were able to combine something the children felt comfortable with - taking flowers apart and looking closely - with something with which they are building competence and confidence: scissor skills.

Along with rolling pins and other tools, each child took apart, flattened, and cut up flowers, building on their knowledge of flowers themselves, as well as the use of each tool.  It's amazing to see each child gain fluency with these tools, and at the same time witness the ownership each child takes of his or her own work as individual processes are seen by teachers, honored, celebrated, and scaffolded upon.

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