Towering sunflowers, now drooping due to their height, weight and the arrival of colder weather, stand outside the Thacher Building. The sunflowers have been the objects of fascination and curiosity of Early Childhood students as they walk by them, multiple times a day.
Planted annually, sunflowers are a part of the Beginners “Take a Closer Look” curriculum, which encourages children to look closely at the natural world around them. Equipped with clipboards and black pens, students spent a couple of afternoons throughout the fall in front of the flowers noting their observations and creating representational drawings. As the year progresses, Beginners continue to build on this experience with subsequent moments to look at a variety of items, including gourds, guinea pigs, amaryllis flowers and caterpillars.
“We asked the children: ‘What do you see? What do you actually see and not imagine?" We asked them to take time and look carefully at the flowers like a scientist,” said Beginners 4/5 Teacher Jeannie Bean.
Students learned about the life cycle of sunflowers from seed to flower back to seed. Through class discussions and books, they learned vocabulary such as “shoots” and “stems.” They practiced their fine motor skills by pulling seeds out of a sunflower head with tweezers.
In Kindergarten, students went a step further. With the help of a member of the facilities department, together they pulled down a 15-foot flower, much to their delight.
“There was so much excitement as the stem went ‘snap!’” said Kindergarten Teacher Jess McKinney. “They chanted ‘heave-ho’ as they carried the long stalk on their shoulders through the Thacher building and laid it down on the table.”
Much like in Beginners, Mrs. McKinney asked the students to observe the sunflower. They noticed that: “pokey pieces were all over the stem, bugs have eaten pieces of the leaves, the leaves are so big, some of the bottom of the flower is missing.”
From observations, they moved to predicting the size of the flower and then measuring it using unifix cubes - 210 in total! Finally, they created a life-sized rendering of the sunflower, each student drawing one section, which now brightens their classroom.