By Hazel Stark
As red maple tree flowers began to fall from their leafless branches on a cloudy day in early May 2017, all students at D.W. Merritt School in Addison, ME got to learn outside during a series of Maine Outdoor School programs. This article is the first of a three-part series on our programs at D.W. Merritt--check out our article on the 3rd and 4th-graders' water explorations here and the 5th and 6th-graders' rock explorations here!
The Pre-K and Kindergarten students were tasked with understanding how weather and people affect plants. First, to understand life cycles, they went outside and played “Life Cycle Simon Says,” where they acted out life cycle vocabulary such as incubation, baby, and adult. Thoroughly stretched out, enthusiastic, and full of new vocabulary, these 4-6-year-olds then went on to use their “science senses” by touching, looking, listening, and smelling (but never tasting!) different plants and evidence of animals in their schoolyard that were in different stages of their life cycle. Adult slugs and potato bugs, baby strawberry plants, newly sprouted grass, and mature bluet flowers were just a few of their impressive discoveries.
Noticing a few pieces of trash along the edge of the forest, they wondered: Did that litter influence the life cycle of the plants underneath? A quick investigation confirmed that the plants underneath the chip bag were not growing as well as the plants exposed to sunlight. They were excited to then tell me that they were about to do a trash pick-up around the school the very next day, inspired by their reading of the book The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. At the end of the program, these students understood plant and animal life cycles, were excited to share how much they loved exploring outside, and were eager to continue learning about what plants need to grow.
Next, the 1st and 2nd-graders had their chance to get outside and learn with Maine Outdoor School. They were tasked with diving even deeper into the world of plants and their life cycles. After a more advanced game of Life Cycle Simon Says, which included vocabulary such as seed, sprout, leaves, and flower, students spread out to find examples of these different plant components. In order to experience the diversity of leaf shapes and textures, they created leaf rubbings using paper, crayons, and any leaves they could find. This encouraged them to consider the function of leaves; as one 1st-grade girl said, “I learned that leaves have factories in them that make food.” After they compared at least two different leaves by making rubbings of them, they headed out to draw whatever flowers they could find. They were surprised by how many flowers they found that early in May once they stopped to look: "I was wowed by all the flowers we found and it isn't even summer!" said one 1st-grader. They created detailed drawings, with labels, of bluets, white violets, and more. Through this careful study of the plants around their school, they learned that plants change and grow like we do and that plants are used not only for food, but also for art!