As educators, we are continually reflecting on the powerful role thoughtful learning environments can play. We strive to create spaces purposefully filled with abundant beauty because of our strongly held belief that loveliness inspires wonder and curiosity.
Throughout this year we have been inquiring into ways that life is affected by the seasons. During the autumn months, we purchased many different coloured bulbs anticipating experiences with planting, growing and observing change. We also had the intention of creating a beautiful learning space in the EYC courtyard for the springtime. We knew it would be a surprise and reward for all the visitors to this space after the cold winter months in Switzerland.
Before planting, we carefully observed the variety of bulbs. We made drawings using the thin line black markers, actively connecting the outdoor learning back in our classroom. Graphic representations support the children in developing understandings. As we revisited the task later in the year with paint as a different medium, the representations became a way for the children to express and document their ideas about change, growth and transformation.
The class made predictions about what might happen to the bulbs over the winter months. Children speculated about what colour flowers might bloom. In some ways, this was the beginnings of a shared commitment by our learning community, to developing the courtyard space.
“Maybe orange” was Izumi’s guess.
Melvin thought “Dark blue.”
We planted the bulbs along with some hardy winter plants in pots in the EYC Courtyard. We discovered some worms living in the soil, which made us happy. We cared for the bulbs and plants by taking turns to water the pots before the winter snow arrived.
Upon returning to school after the spring vacation we noticed that the pots were a shock of green. It was a surprise especially after the pots had been covered by snow for the previous few months, a colourful reward after a long winter.
We shared our thoughts about the plants,
“I think they will be onions” Nikita (Referring to the original bulb, which appeared to look like onions to her)
“We are waiting” Aaron.
A few more weeks past and we were so excited to observe the bulbs pop with colour, red, yellow and orange tulips, yellow daffodils, pink and purple hyacinths. Many children were captivated by their beauty. Owen spent the Outdoor Exploration time “just watching the flowers.” He thought that they were “so beautiful.”
“Look what has happened … beautiful!” Aaron
“I like the yellow, white and pink (flowers)” Matilde
“The white flowers, it smells like honey” Nikita
“It’s almost as big as me” Melvin and Elena noticed by comparing their heights to the tall tulips and daffodils.
We recorded the arrival of the bright and colourful flowers by working on collaborative murals in the EYC Courtyard, again inviting the children to document their observations of change and growth. The children were pleased to share the beautiful space with friends in grade 2 who painted together with us.
We noticed other occasions where the children actively sought to incorporate beauty into their environment. During Outdoor Exploration we observed the boys dedicating much effort to improving the wooden playhouse, using the petals from picked flowers to beautify the space. This group clearly had developed an appreciation of beautifying a space and felt empowered to to take action in this shared effort.
“We need to make the house pretty, so everyone will love the house. We are sprinkling them to get (it) pretty. Put it all on the floor. Can somebody help me make it?” Owen
“I can help you.” Maxi
“We need to do it everywhere, that is nice.” Tuur
“We need to sprinkle them all.” Aaron
Gardening and time in nature provide countless opportunities to explore ways life is affected by the seasons, to build understandings about scientific concepts. These ideas were primary motivators in planning this project. Interestingly, we found that something perhaps more profound happened as well. The act of beautifying our shared space deepened the level of commitment from the children. Knowing that they were active participants in creating the symphony of colour in our courtyard, the children expressed pride and took notice of details that may have otherwise been missed. They became eager to spend more time in the courtyard space as they appreciated the beauty. We believe that children deserve loveliness and pleasing environments to exist in. This experience illustrates how powerful it can be when we create opportunities in our learning community to actively shape the aesthetics of our environment.
Links to our yearlong How The World Works Unit of Inquiry
The Central Idea: Life is affected by the seasons
Photographs: Rebecca Smith
Text: Andrea Mills and Rebecca Smith