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In the Classroom: The Peanuts

written by Lead Teacher Jacob Kerner

Planting seeds of community and learning

A Peanut sunflower study
As long as I’ve been working with young children, I have found that play surrounding plants has held incredible appeal and potential for learning. The speed at which plants grow from seed to sprout to flowering/fruiting - relatively slow compared to our human pace, but quick enough to watch happen – is perfect for encouraging observation, questioning, discussion, and testing. 
 
Playing with plants gives an easy inroad to to be very specific in focus, as well as the possibility to look at much bigger and expansive topics. We count, sort, care for, touch, smell, measure, and harvest.
 

For all these reasons the Peanuts invariably focus on seeds, sprouts, plants, and gardening each spring and summer. But, this year varied in one very specific way – 2014 is very much about sunflowers!  
 
This year, after attending a workshop at the annual National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) conference in Washington, DC about sunflower studies with 3-5 year olds, I was itching to engage the Peanuts with these flowers that grow enormously tall with their bright, massive blossoms.
 
The experience really spoke to ideas I’d been having about moving our curriculum more toward emergent learning in which teachers supply rich materials and experiences, and then follow ideas, questions, and fascinations brought to the surface through student play. 
 
What would happen in our classroom if the Peanuts were given the materials and the opportunity to play around with sunflower seeds?
 
The answer has been unfolding as the Peanut’s interest in all the sprouts and flowers that accompany early spring began to enter our classroom each day in stories, hands, and pockets. 
 
First, we took a walk to the hardware store to purchase sunflower seeds and examined the old dried head of a mammoth sunflower full of seeds that I had saved from my garden the fall before. The Peanuts took it from there.
 
We planned where to plant our flowers, considering the views from other classrooms. We now have three beds around PIC property, offering many opportunities for everyone to observe their growth and discover the insects who love our gardens.
 
We’ve watched our seeds sprout, made predictions about how tall they will grow, and discovered what it takes to nurture a plant and keep it alive.
 
We have become seeds, sprouts, plants, and flowers ourselves in the most dramatic ways. We have made numerous sketches and works of art based on our experiences, and visited the Art Museum to count how many sunflowers we could find in famous works of art.
 
See if you can spot our sunflowers as we continue to grow them from a tiny seed to an enormous plant this summer and get ready for even more fun with sunflowers on the new nature playground, where planting rows in certain shapes will create ‘sunflower houses’ in which we can play!