"The biggest thrill for my kids was noticing the constant changes from month to month in colors, textures, and insect life as different flowers bloomed in our wildflower patch," reports Wilmington, DE, teacher Sandy Thurston. Each of Sandy's learning-disabled students observed and sorted the seeds in a pinch of a wildflower seed mixture, calculated the percentages of different types of seeds, then made predictions about how different seedlings would look once they grew, using catalogs and identification books as resources.
Some students took the wildflower seedlings home to transplant, while others moved theirs to a wildflower patch they'd prepared at the school. "The students were in charge of planting, weeding, cutting old flower heads, and reseeding empty areas," reports Sandy. Students worked together in groups, using identification books to identify the plants, so that they could pull out the weeds and leave the wildflowers. "This generated a discussion on what's a weed and what's a wildflower," said Sandy. "Students decided to define weeds as those plants growing where we didn't want them, but they did recognize that what might be a weed for us could be a wildflower to another person."
Each student chose their favorite plant, drew it, researched it, and many did art projects inspired by the shapes, colors, and textures in the patch. The project did wonders for their observation skills, Sandy reports. "Before the flowers emerged, students had to make very detailed observations of leaves, noticing shapes, hairiness, toothed edges, and other features. They were thrilled to begin to distinguish details where they first saw only a field of green leaves."
If you want to encourage children to develop a love and respect for nature, consider those hardy survivors growing right outside the door, in sidewalk cracks, roadside meadows, and vacant lots. A transforming patch of wildflowers can help students learn firsthand about adaptations -- for seed germination, pollination, dispersal-that enable plants to survive in their environments. Students can begin to understand the role of wild plants in preventing erosion and providing oxygen, food, and protection for insects, birds and other animals. You can inspire important language and history lessons by exploring how wildflowers got their common or Latin names, or by discovering their folklore and culinary and medicinal uses.
Seventh graders in Carolyn Burgess's Crozer, VA, class collected and identified wild seeds in the fall, used books and local resources to study their special germination needs, then used different techniques to try to simulate nature's conditions for sprouting seeds. "The experience of thinking about how seed needs are met in the wild, and trying to simulate what is invisibly accomplished in nature, has given them a much greater appreciation for native plants and the diversity of the natural world," reports Carolyn. "They no longer look at roadside plants as 'just weeds.'"
A wildflower unit for your classroom can be simple or elaborate to fit your situation. It could range from observing and identifying wildflowers growing around the school or in nearby lots to collecting or obtaining seeds and trying to germinate them in the classroom. Or you might choose to establish a full-blown wildflower meadow. You can purchase wildflower seeds individually or as mixtures, or collect seeds in the fall and experiment with methods of germinating them.