Many educational environments have a forgotten corner where nature is making a silent move to claim back and recolonise the space. These plants and tenacious inhabitants are to be celebrated. Their commonality should not be confused with simplicity. They hold as much potential for learning with nature as a larger excursion.
One of my earliest memories of being at school was when I was seven years old and going out with my class teacher to ‘study’ the plants in the field behind the school. It was a warm summer’s day and the memory of leaving the classroom is still tangible, along with the sense of guilty pleasure of escape. We used quadrats to look at species variation and the drawing I made of a small blue flower called Speedwell was stuck into my memory book. I remember collecting heads of the flowers and taking them back to school, where we took out the fine central florets and put them into collecting jars. It was many years later that I discovered that I had unwittingly been part of a wine making process! Let me be clear that I am not suggesting that children create alcohol, but I am saying that some educators have different drivers for going into nature. Whatever the reason behind this experience, I thought my teacher was inspiring; those moments in the meadow have driven me to be a teacher who has spent years theorizing in my doctorate what actually happened in those moments!
In reality, there were implicit messages being passed to me in that field -
· Dandelions are good to eat and make drinks with. Until the 1800’s people grew Dandelions intentionally, as you can eat any part of the flower, including the leaves in a salad or in pesto-like pastes.
· We discovered as children, that the sap gives a brown tattoo through playing with them in our ‘quiet moments’. As we walked off the field most of us had brown fingers and patterns up our arms.
· We were aware of both the structure and form of the flower, with each flower head having 400 individual tiny flower heads (but more commonly 180).
· We understood seed dispersal, as our eyes took in the spread of the plants (the seeds can travel as far as 5 miles on the wind), and we certainly helped that dispersal as we played with the dandelion clocks, saying the time each time we blew more seeds off.
· Our language of number increased, as the dandelions were prolific. The estimation of number grew from tens, to hundreds, to thousands, in a variety and complexity that is hard to explain without using some of the diverse descriptions that I hear in our kindergarten even today, such as scruffy ones, shaggy ones, sunshiny ones, tired ones, sleeping ones, old ones, and some that have ‘gone’.
Dandelions can colonise and take over the most challenging spaces and they are therefore ideal for children’s play, especially in those forgotten corners. Just to be clear, the freedom to pick flowers has to be balanced with their rarity and the intent behind the picking. Destroying habitats is not appropriate, but the picking of common plants can have real benefits. The joy of dandelions is that they regenerate from their tap root. A single plant will come back and re-flower many, many times. So, just in case you are inspired by the ancient ways of harvesting dandelions, here is a short film to consider, about 7 things a dandelion can teach us, beyond its usefulness as a base for wine.
Click here to watch the video