Sometime you just need to be outdoors and in the real world to make connections. When sitting with trees, and plants all around you it is easier to take in how much we are the same as the plant world and how different we are from all those growing green things.
Over a few weeks in May I spent time with a group of third graders. A class of kids who in their day to day life don’t spend a lot of time outdoors thinking about plant and animal life.
They are a group of students who live in city poverty. Homes where parents work several jobs or no job at all. Homes where paying rent or finding or paying for food for the week is more important than names of trees or how a seed grows. Some are homes where guns and violence is more common that growing flowers or taking nature walks.
So taking time in the classroom to explore our natural world is important. If we want adults who care about and want to work towards (for vote) the protection of our natural environment we need to begin when they are young.
This group and I had already spent a day working on close observation and on drawing plants. We had begun our science journals with the date, location and weather. We looked closely at the leaves, stems and flowers. Then drew what we saw. Our drawings needed to be “real.” We wanted to be able to name these plants and find them again if we returned later. We were becoming naturalists.
A few weeks later on a cool rainy morning I met these 3rd graders at the North Mississippi Regional Park here in Minneapolis, Mn. We planned to take another step closer to understanding our plants and being able to enjoy our world through drawing. The students had talked about chlorophyll and how plants make their own food. They knew the parts of a plant or tree – leaves, stems, trunks, roots, flowers, and seeds. Now we were going to “see” the chlorophyll and use it as our “ink” to draw.
We started by taking leaves and placing them between two sheets of white paper and them using a spoon to help us we rubbed hard for about 60 sections. Then we pealed back the top paper to find a leave print. The pressure of the rubbing had pushed the chlorophyll out into a print of the leaf.
The veins were clearly visible and the leaf structure was perfect. I have to say not all leaf printed were great so there is some trial and error but this gave us lots to talk about and wonder.
After printing several different leaves we moved on to taking these smashed leaves and wading them up in our hands and using them to draw pictures of the trees and plants around us. Our pictures were simple since our leaf pencils had no pointed tips but the kids had fun.
Our conversations ranged from
- are leaf veins like our veins?
- we have mouths to eat with – oh so that is why trees make food they don’t have mouths like ours.
- why do I get green when I draw with the deep red leaf?
- that leaf is thicker – is that why I can’t get a good print?
- What happens if I use grass? can I draw with grass?
- Where does the chlorophyll go in the fall when the leaves turn colors?
This simple activity opened up so many questions as well as answers they did not know they already had in their heads. As well as the excitement to learn more about the natural world around them.
The lesson and activity was only about 25 minutes. It was just what was need to help this group of young explores to engage in the natural world, to understand just a little bit more and enjoy a morning outside.