Seeds of Change

Regeneration Education

Children love a challenge, and from years in the garden with them, I know they particularly enjoy harvesting seeds from marigolds and zinnias. I show one child how to open a “surprise seed package,” how to extract the tiny seeds, and then the learning spiral begins.  That child shows another, the children start to teach each other, and suddenly, all children spontaneously know how to harvest seeds from marigold plants.  The children will continue to teach each other, as well as brothers and sisters, and a new cultural behavior has taken root.   All the teacher has to do is give that wheel a spin now and then, and the learning as well as the re-greening of our playgrounds begins to fly up an exponential curve.

Planned Randomness

Children like to plant seeds, all the time, everywhere, all over the place, and since being outdoors equates to freedom, we’ve made a policy decision to let them plant seeds anywhere they like.  When springtime rolls around, flowers pop up everywhere on our playground in an uncontrolled riot of randomness. As they say, everyone can count the seeds in an apple, but no one can count the apples in a seed. Seeds represent ideas, potentiality, hope, fertility, and, seeds represent food for the body as well as the soul.

The Challenge

The seed project was simple to dream up and simple to execute.  We asked the children to collect as many different kinds of seeds as they could find; and thus the seed game began.  Already acquainted with a few seed samples, the kids quickly began collecting others.  Seeds come in an amazing variety of shapes, sizes and disguises and you have to think creatively once you’ve outstripped the known supply of ready seeds.  Hunting for new seeds prompted the children to look closely at everything around them, and think in a flexible and fluid sort of way.  The seed project astounded me, as children and nature projects often do, when the children started finding many kinds of seeds that I had overlooked on the playground, leading to a spirited and virtuous spiral of learning for the whole playground community.

Upward Spiral

With sustained interest in seeds, we led a walking field trip to one of the “rain gardens” near our Community Center to cut down cattails, and break them open.  The children began bringing in seeds they found around home and collecting them in baby food jars in the classrooms.  Later, fruits and vegetables were brought in and cut open for exploration in the classroom.

Farmer’s Market vs. Farmer John

The seed project eventually spiraled into visits to local Farmer’s Markets, followed by the creation of a child-sized market in their very own classroom, filled with every sort of math, literacy and social-emotional learning opportunity you can imagine. In my view, the seed-to-farmer’s market project is a perfect example of a outdoor nature project that spiraled into a meaningful indoor family classroom project that is completely appropriate and fitting for our times.

The Red Barn Myth

The myth of the family farm is persistent, and pervasive in pre-school books, but I wonder what kind of favor we are doing our children by insisting that our food comes from cute little cut-out family farms with red barns.  The red barn myth is very deeply entrenched in our American identity, yet it hardly matches our current food reality.  It will surely be just one more struggle for the next generation, to somehow reconcile collective identity with the current reality, as they modify the American identity, or modify the food supply, or both.

Seeds of Change

The seed project is a beautiful example of how a very real outdoor project can be brought indoors and spiraled into a meaningful and mature project, right for our times, and ripe with opportunities for learning. I am quite sure that if the seed challenge were introduced to another classroom, with other teachers, the class would end up in an entirely different place, based on the children’s interest, with an entirely different and equally meaningful project.  Nature, as a subject, is so vast, so deep and so wide, that learning opportunities are as individual as they are infinite.


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