Speaking of Sunflowers: Planting the Seeds of Language Development

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow. It’s what
sunflowers do.”
~ Helen Keller

Recently I received a message with a request for some ideas on how to support children’s language development, using flowers as a learning theme.  Currently in my classroom, we are exploring seeds and gardening.  Our hands-on activities have included looking at assorted seeds, sprouting mung beans and planting sunflower seeds, which has presented many opportunities for interesting conversations with the children about how plants grow.  Children four and five are eager to share what they know, ask questions, and represent their understanding in different ways.  My last blog entry shared a poem about planting seeds and I would like to suggest that a very rich learning unit about flowers and gardening can be built around that poem.  Keeping in mind my belief that the arts should have an important place in the curriculum, here are some examples of activities that can be used to enrich children’s language development.

Choose Good Books

I have been reading a number of picture books to the children in my class because of their strong link to our planting them.  What’s This? by Caroline Mockford is a charming story about a girl who finds, plants and nurtures a sunflower seed.  When she brings the sunflower to school, seeds are shared with her classmates and they enjoy a planting activity (much like the one we did!).  To build children’s language skills, ask them questions about the story, and encourage them to use words they have learned and that they associate with their own planting experience.  This is a ‘text to self’ connection.  Another book we’ve enjoyed is called This is the Sunflower by Lola M. Schaefer.  This is a cumulative poem, with lots of repetition of certain phrases. Tell the children they have to listen closely so they can fill in the blanks when you leave out words.  This is a cloze activity and encourages both their receptive and expressive language skills.  Another lovely rhyming book is Sunflower House by Eve Bunting.  In this story a little boy plants a sunflower garden which becomes a magical place for him to play with his friends.  The children make discoveries about the cycle of life when fall comes and they collect seeds for planting next year.  The book provides an opportunity for children to describe what they remember about planting, and make predictions about the story.  Use open-ended questions to invite them to talk.

Integrate Art Activities into Other Areas of the Curriculum

Each child in my class made a unique sunflower using geometric shapes – a brown circle, assorted orange and yellow triangles and a green rectangle.  I added gold glitter to the glue for added excitement!  The children could easily glue the triangles onto to the circle to create the sunflower blossom, and then add a green stem.  I made a stunning display of their creations, and happy to say there were no two sunflowers alike, and there was no expectation for them to make a sunflower that looked just like mine. Think of all the concept words that can be learned while children are engaged in their own creative process: circle, round, triangle, pointy, rectangle, long, brown, orange, yellow, green,
stem, flower, seeds, petal
and garden.  Chat with the children about sunflowers as
they create them from paper shapes to find out how many of these words they
know.  What other words can they think of?  Write the words on small squares of paper and add them to a word wall so children can see how words they are using look written down.  What a simple and wonderful art, math and language activity!

Visit a Gardening Centre

I paid a visit to a gardening centre near where I live and couldn’t resist the temptation to snap a few pictures of flowers and herbs there.  This could provide a very interesting excursion if you want to involve children in purchasing seeds and soil, or just go to look all of the different plants and garden items there.  What an opportunity to meet people in the community and ask them questions about their work and about plants.  When the excursion is over, you could engage the children in creating their own book about the trip.  Where did they go?  How did they get there?  What do they remember?  Who did they meet?  Why do people plant seeds and gardens?  Give each child an opportunity to contribute an idea and scribe it for them so they can see their words written down.  Then invite the children to draw illustrations for their story, which is an excellent way to represent their understanding and communicate what they know.

These are just a few ideas, and if anyone has others they would like to share, I would welcome your input!  Enjoy.

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