Deep learning with dandelions – part 1
A four-year-old’s immersive experience with dandelions.
Age Range: all ages
Duration: long-term project
Time Of Day: any time
Category: curriculum outdoors food outdoors health & wellbeing
Liz Edwards, Muddy Faces founder, tells the story of her youngest son’s love for dandelions, and how it affected the whole family.
“My youngest son was so excited about the emergence of dandelions in the spring, even though he was only five. He has a deep-rooted and wonderful memory of these glorious little suns shining up at us from the green grass. His memory was created a year before when he had just started at an outdoor kindergarten…”
Wow was not enough
“When I arrived to collect my son from his outdoor kindergarten at the end of the day, he greeted me not with a hello or even a cuddle but with a grab of my hand and a pull towards the fire circle, where a member of staff was diligently handing out and checking labels on jars – all with an inch of translucent gold, solidified liquid in them.
My son received his jar whilst jigging and dancing from foot to foot. He then held it up in outstretched arms towards me and, with such reverence, announced ‘Dandelion Jam!’ ‘Wow, that’s amazing’, came my reply (and I meant it).
Making jam at an outdoor kindergarten was pretty impressive and deserved a ‘Wow’. But it wasn’t until later at home, when he had finished explaining how he came to have the jam, that my ‘Wow’ response truly became an in awe and wonder one and I realised ‘Wow’ was just not enough!
I’m not sure if I can express in words how powerfully this dandelion day had affected him, but it showed me that my four-year-old could plan, communicate and work hard to create something very complex. He was clear in his mind how it was done and he wanted to communicate to us the process and his experiences of the day. His whole day was spent totally immersed in the activity, with time to explore, extend and make enquiries.
Preparation & the journey
Before they set off on their expedition to find and collect dandelions, the children needed to prepare the correct equipment, and take their snacks and drinks with them.
They walked through the strip of wood to the other side, along a track to where the fields spread across the hillside. The fields and verges had thousands of dandelions dancing in the breeze.
They talked about how to collect the dandelions and what to watch out for. They picked only fully-grown flowers and wandered through the fields as they collected them to prevent too many being picked in one area.
My son had elected himself as chief dandelion inspector, only allowing un-munched (by slugs) dandelions to be picked.
Time was spent immersed in the natural environment, listening to the birds and watching the breeze blow the newly-emerged leaves and the lush long grass. Time to blow the seeds from a mature dandelion clock and watch them skip up and off into the sky. Lots of time spent looking and exploring the dandelions and their inhabitants.
A little bit of running and rolling down the hill had to be done as well and, of course, a refuel with snacks and drinks. The running and rolling gave the children opportunities to see the dandelions from different perspectives, to feel the grass on their skin and to be surrounded by the environment that supported the dandelions. Even sitting and munching a snack was a calm moment to look at their collection or just be in this amazing outdoor environment.
The journey back
An opportunity to discuss what they would do with the dandelions – planning and communication.
Back at the kindergarten, the children worked hard separating the petals from their green bases and trying to stop as much green getting into the bowl as possible.
Once all the petals were collected, they were popped into a Dutch oven and covered with water. This beautiful mixture was boiled over the fire. The petals were then sieved out of the liquid. Sugar was added and the liquid boiled (I guess fruit pectin was added, although my son never mentioned this). The golden liquid was put into jars by the adults and the jars were cooled in the stream.
The mushed, boiled petals were then used to create pictures of the day’s adventures, using the liquid, squeezed and rubbed out of the petals, as water paint.
How do I know all this?
I wasn’t there and I didn’t see him. The leaders gave me some information, particularly the part about my son becoming chief slug trail inspector.
I know all about the day because he told me, he told his story with pride and excitement, the passion for the jam was clear, he jumped about chronologically, pulling out his highlights and then flitting back to fill in the gaps.
My mind’s eye created some of the visual descriptions. For example, he didn’t describe it as lush grass, he said long and green and you could lie flat and not be seen. I knew at the time it had affected my son in a deep way but what proof do I have that he had a deep learning experience?
Deep learning experience
The proof came a year on, in April, when we spotted our first dandelions. My son remarked about them, telling me little details. He asked on several occasions ‘Can we make dandelion jam?’ I said I would love to make dandelion jam. I am not known for my culinary expertise but have managed a few jams: blackberry, Victoria plum, and I hoped dandelion jam would be fine.
Life trickled by, April turned to May and we still hadn’t managed to find the opportunity to head out on a dandelion forage.”
Read what happened next in Deep learning with dandelions – part 2.