It is winter. There’s a bit of sun. And an overgrown salvia plant in my garden. Here is what I did with it.
I harvested the salvia plant and left lying about on an outside table:
Freshly cut salvia stems
Wooden trays for sorting
That’s it. No hours of planning or shopping for “educational” resources. No expense. No fuss.
The only background is that I knew the children I left this out for had developed a strong interest in flowers. In warmer months, they’d been making flower boats…placing flowers in our water shell and watching whether they’d float. They’d made flower stew in our mud kitchen. We’d pressed flowers, made pot pouri bags with dried flowers and discovered the parts of flowers on a park visit where we found sour sobs, and dissected them. So I knew the flowers might entice.
After a spot of play in the winter sun, the young botanists discovered the sneaky salvia in wait, on their outdoor table.
Immediately, they accepted this silent invitation to explore.
They named: Stems. Petals. Leaves.
They stayed completely engaged for more than forty minutes. Yes, forty! These are children aged three.
At the end of this deep engagement, they re-engaged with the flowers in different ways.
The stems became fishing rods.
The petals became shell urchins.
And yes, you guessed it, mud petal soup.
I could have happily ticked the boxes of the formal learning outcomes that this activity met: Sensory experience. Fine motor development. Practise of verbal language. Cooperation. Concentration.
Play with natural objects is widely accepted as valuable to development in early childhood.
Formal learning outcomes aside, what is the most valuable thing about a child accepting an invitation to explore a flower?
The exploring becomes a wonderful meeting place of the natural world, and the nature of the child.
It is so important, this connection to place.
How can children begin to fathom their place in the universe if they don’t touch our earth? Smell it? Look at it? Know it?
I believe that unbridled connections to nature protect childhood. The natural world is our teacher. It is so dangerous to swap children’s natural explorations for heavy handed academics.
I acknowledge that the invitation I left led the play in a certain direction. I have left bunches of flowers, twigs and vines without sorting baskets for these particular children many times, and watched them create jungles, cubbies, wonderful noisy messes and mud tea.
But I have also watched them pull the plants apart and inspect every intricate, tiny piece. On this day, I invited the children to extend this interest. They might not have followed my lead, sometimes they don’t. They may have made salvia monster hair. And teeth. Or played flower hide and seek. I observed their interests and left a meaningful invitation to explore and play. And they did. Fervently. With deep engagement and delight.