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A Child's Imagination Meets Spring

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

“No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of imagination.” – Edward Hopper

Being on the edge of the transition between winter and spring can be a recipe for cabin fever. With opportunities for play and learning, a child’s imagination can convert cabin fever into a search for a rare piece of art, engineering mysterious inventions, a ride on a high wave in a pirate’s ship, or an expedition into a jungle. In a learning context, children’s imaginative antics can moderate cabin fever for both children and adults.

How does cabin fever give way to spring excitement? As green blades of grass or bobbing plants begin to show through the white melting snow, a child wants to know what is happening. Why does this flower bloom first? What is its name? What color will it be? If I pick it now, will it grow in a vase? What if I had a garden of my own? Yes, what if?

Why not have a small indoor or outdoor box garden in a sunny spot so that the children can identify the growth phases and be delighted by the emerging color of flowers in “their” garden? Observing, learning about, and cultivating (planting, watering, fertilizing, weeding) a garden can give children ownership of a process (gardening), and in so doing they can become stewards of it. Stewardship can bring them knowledge, pride, and experience. Two plants that are easily seen and easily grown are the delightful multicolored spring poppy flowers and crocuses.

Another early-growing flower, but one seen less frequently in the Rocky Mountain region is the poppy. In March, these begin to grow in the Colorado front range and, as I write this, our five poppy plants on the south side of our home are now eight inches tall. Children can plant these perennials one year and watch these hardy plants grow tall the next year. Orange red, shell pink, coral, and white are just a few of the poppy colors that can bring satisfaction to young gardeners. Why not spend a few dollars and buy a poppy seed kit and the children can plant them in their garden?

Or, how about planting a plot with only xeric plants? For example, the Colorado Front Range is high desert, with much less snowfall than the mountains just west of it. One way to determine which xeric plants are available so that you can select your favorites for your or your child’s garden would be to check with the experts.

Then again, perhaps it is time for an afternoon fieldtrip? From such a trip, children could learn to identify Colorado’s high desert native prickly pear cactus, several varieties of barrel cactus, and yucca plants.

What were, and are, some of the uses of these plants that we have learned from Native Americans? Prickly-pear cactus can be pickled and eaten. Yucca thread can be used to sew things together and the roots can be eaten. The name “yucca” is derived from “yuca,” a Carib Indian name for the cassava or tapioca plant and is cross-fertilized by a moth.

 Perhaps create a project by having the children take a photo of or sketch the yucca without its flowers as a “Spring-to-Summer Project.” Then, once the yucca begins flowering, have them photo/sketch it at this stage. When a yucca flowers, it’s very delicate flower is exciting to watch unfold. Once dried in late summer, these tall flowers can be picked and put in the classroom or home classroom in a vase. These can last, quite literally, for years.

Spring gardens can bring curiosity to the surface and joy to a child’s face as he or she learns something new about nearby surroundings. They allow us to experience both creation and creativity at the same time and provide a ton of inspiration in terms of projects. You might even be tempted to make a small fairy garden, for example, with a little grass seed, potting soil, random things the kids find in the garden and then some hand-fashioned housing, and so forth! So, time to have some spring fun; feel free to send any projects you have completed our way!

Thank you to Chris Runoff for your photo of children, to JustABigGeek for your crocus photo, to kretyen for your cactus photo, to Fool On The Hill for your yucca fruits photo!

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