Learning The ABC by getting to know flower and Plant NamEs
”Day after day I spent in the woods alone in order to collect my floral beauties, and put them in my little garden I had hidden in the brush not far from the house, as it was considered foolishness in the neighborhood to waste time on flowers."
~ African American Scientist George Washington Carver
Last week was our first week of school. Enough said. First days of the school year are always an adventure for kids and for teachers alike. It was also the week I started teaching Kindergarten again! It meant going from big kids work back to penmanship of the letters of the alphabet: ABC.
"Been there, done that," I yawned. (And mind you in two different languages).
So, I nonchalantly glanced at my old Kindergarten lesson plan and peered over to the large Target ABC Chart dangling down the wall. My eyes fell on our familiar "A for apple, "B" for bee, C for Cat chart and ... I caught myself, frowing.
Somehow I felt this holy discontentment, this bugging itch, or whatever you want to call it. This deep desire in me to Change.things.up!
I wanted to divert to something more original, something more edgy, something really fun, artsy, yeah scientcy, hm... just something different. Not just for my students' sake but I guess even for myself. I needed to bring some sparkle some challenge, and for the sake of my girly girl students, some glitter into the classroom.
So we needed something fresh, something new this year. Why?
I believe anyone can teach and live sameness. And no judging here. I myself actually absolutely love comfort zones. I love sameness. Same patterns, same routes to work, to the store, to friends' houses, jogging the same old trail trail over and over again.
But once in a while there is and needs to be a punch of "change.things.up" in all of us. The idea that challenges us to walk outside the box take a new path, trail blaze in fact. And after the initial shock and horror and denial and excuses we fearlessly run into the new path and the find liberating joy hiding right there on this new, hot, different path. So much similarities yet freshness that will each time add enormous treasure to our life.
And after repeating this pattern countless times, here I stand: Comitted to learning something new every day. Comitted to the discovery of new things. Committed to step out of my well worn shoes and discover diversity in my very day little and large encounters. Every single day. And it's a fun way of living!
I knew that when I as teacher had fun and learnt new things, my kids would have fun! If I was bored and not feeling the things we studied, books we read and places we went to, they would be bored and not feeling those either!
So I looked at my old ABC chart and began to think... I guess it should be something taylored to spark my little free spirited Kindergartners interest in the alphabet.
Hm... she loves science, particularly plants and flowers. In fact, not a single day passes on which she doesn't point out an especially beautiful flower to me that I have no idea what it's called.
BINGO! We are going to learn with a PLANT & FLOWER ABC! We are all going to learn the names of all our local plants and trees this year.
And what better way than to switch it up even a bit more and turn letter B into a TREASURE HUNT... thus combining language art, science and PE! (And making for a very tired toddler before nap time.)
I felt like a genius. Perfect.
So we loaded our backpacks with pens, Scott tape, bead jewelry (a must), hats, pocket flower field guide (see below), sunglasses, water bottles, and whatever else seemed important for the one hour hunt. And off we went. To chase letter B plants and flowers. For about an hour we chased through the neighborhood to discover Birds of the Paradise plants, Black-eyed Susan's, Basil (sweet and Thai), Butterfly Weed (milkweed) and Blue Chalk Stick plants.
That entire treasure hunt started off so simple: I wrote two plants for each of my girls on a colored flash card and the word "Bee" ? for my toddler boy.
And off they walked to find their plants and bee.
It was a long walk with lots of water breaks (we currently have a heat wave but that's not gonna hinder real explorers!) and lots of promises for the toddler to get a cookie and an A-Nimal cracker at home if he keeps walking but eventually we found them all!
All our B-plants, including clipped off flower samples to dry at home, were collected in our bags. And we took lots of pictures posing with Ms Black-eyed Susan, Mr Blue Chalk stick and Madame Bird of the Paradise. It was so much fun and I believe they will remember it forever. In fact we will continue our flower and plant alphabet throughout the year! So what's next?
Perfectionist, type A me spent the following weeks putting together a comprehensive (yes more than 80 pages) ABC Unit Study on flowers and plants for each letter (A-Z) so we can repeat this unit when toddler boy turns 5 and graduates from his Bee card.
So what does our Unit Study look like now? Well.... I wanted a one to two plant per week study. I wanted it to contain lots of fun flower and plant names of plants that surround us, posters and fun facts for us to discover and study and remember. And I wanted there to be fun activity sheets for them to do while I'm, well... preparing the next unit (or lunch:).
And the kids and I loved the end result. It ended up also including an array of writing prompts, plant vocabulary, children’s books and literature to read along with each plant and teaching suggestions.
If you are interested in doing the same study on our plant and flower ABC download the beginning here for FREE.
I believe hunts like these (and nature studies in general) help students so well to establish a relationship with the subject. They get to smell, touch, and even taste the different textures of plants like basils and butterfly weed. Plus we got a free bonus lecture on monarch butterflies and their favorite food (well, milkweed) by an elderly neighbor that morning. We took pictures next to pretty Black-eyed Susan and posed with the gorgeous Bird of the Paradise. We laughed about fun names and facts on particular plants. It was hot but fun day and just the first of many plant hunts.
So again why why did we divert from my good old Target letter chart today?
1.) I'm always looking to find ways to mix things up, to surprise my students (and myself), and utilize things that will help my students to remember what we've learnt. Hopefully they will remember and cherish chasing after diverse plants forever.
(By the way, the only thing we didn't succeed in was catching a bee, which was fine. After all we try to be vegan anyways. (: )
Why am I sharing this? Because I, like many of you, believe in education and culture. Education, I believe, is nothing else than brave discovery. And discovery of diversity even in the confinements of some similarities (letter B), is beautiful. Being allowed to wildly treasure-hunt for precious spoil and leaving no stone untouched to find those ancient gems, will bring sparkle and joy to your life. And therefore enrich also the lifes of those that you teach or influence on a daily basis.
I hope you got inspired by this post to bravely mix things up and hunt for some flowers!
So, our diverse book recommendation for today and a great book we love along those lines of today's lesson is "The Bee tree" by Patricia Polacco (see link below). It is the fun story of a group of diverse people chasing after a bee! The book has some beautiful lessons on perseverance in chasing after something sweet (in literature). The author is of Russian and Ukrain-Jewish descent and the book touches on so many good topics introducing your students to different traditions, expressions, clothing and language!
Have fun in your next treasure hunt for diversity (:
Ps: A wonderful resource to discover plants in your area is the National Geographic flower field guide (see bellow). We also loved using these coloring books (bellow) on diverse flowers and medicinal plants. They even give a short description of the plant and are easy and quick to color. We ended up using the activity sheets and writing prompts of my unit study and the coloring sheets bellow to create the students' colorful plant alphabet folder!
If you decide to study plants, also read the beautiful biography on renown African American Scientist scientist George Washington Carver. The book bellow wond fully illustrated what a remarkable person inside and out Carver was. See also my blog post on our favorite multiethnic books on flowers and plants.
PsII: If you decide to purchase your books through my
amazon link I will receive a small percentage which helps for the maintenance of this blog. Thanks!
By the way, for all my fellow Kindergarten teachers: A fun tool that I have been using with my 5-year old to start learning to read is "Reading Eggs". After trying different apps this tool has not only really improved my daughter's reading and writing skills, but made her love practicing phonics. She started from only knowing the letter names and quickly moved to sounds and being able to read. What I liked most about Reading Eggs is that
1. My kindergartener absolutely enjoys the little egg learning program! I guess that's probably the most important reason, since we want to make learning enjoyable and memorable (:
2. I really like the pace and EFFICIENCY (yes, half-German me...) in which the program moves my little one forward! I find that it's not too fast in that it frustrates her. At the same time it does repeat a little, but it's also not too repetitive either. It also changes things up quite a bit picture and concept wise.
3. And yes, global things loving me loves that it's used by parents and teachers all over the world, with success! Well, my kindergartner really enjoys it and it saves me time that I can spent teaching my 8-year-old or putting out fires running after my energetic 3-year-old. We one day stumbled over it and so far Reading Eggs has been has been a wonderful win-win for us.
4. Random 4th reason I love this program is that.... The "M" sound picture for "Mom" shows a beautiful woman of African descent! I loved having my little one guess "mom" when the "m" picture come up. (: hashtag #representationmatters
You can try a free trial of this fun program here:
Before I pressed the button "publish" to my very first blog post I seriously held my breath for a second and asked myself, "why in the world am I writing a blog?"
Aren't there enough blogs and bloggers floating around in cyber space? Why am I actually joining their scary ranks of bloggers and opening a public blog? Introvert Me out of all people.... Introvert Me who likes to sit one in one with people, drink tea with people and exchange ideas face to face.
"In fact," I tried to argue myself out of it, "This is one of the very thing that's been on my Introvert Me's "NEVER TO DO"-list.
But hello, there, ....Here. I. am. Breathe. Paddling out to uncharted territory and feeling a little nervous. Reminds me of the day this summer when I ventured out into a paddle boat with my 2 year old sqeeking excitedly. We both had never done this before. In fact I didn't really think when I agreed and exclaimed "yes sure, I'll try it!" What in the world was I thinking?
So we drifted out unto the deep waters of a lake in Utah. Bid farewell with a a brief "bye-bye!" from the paddle boat worker, and pushed off the shore we were by a quirky summer job working teenager with freckles who I was pretty sure could NOT save me and this toddler for the death of her life....
But hey, I smiled, "byy-e!" with teeth firmly Presse together and with hands firmly grabbing those wooden paddles, and just kept paddling (see photo). "What in the world am I doing? I've never done this before in fact do I even know how to do this?" In my mind for a quick second I tried to remember if I had cellphone reception put on the lake and could pull up some YouTube videos on paddle boats real quick.
But how would that look and imagine I dropped the phone in the lake and ... "girl just keep paddling and you will be ok," reasoned my laid back Ghanaian side. So I relaxed and just kept paddling. Out into the open lake and back. A matter of maybe 30-45 minutes. And once I got the hang of it it was beautiful.
Now, why am I sharing this? Well, similar feelings just came up as I pushed "publish".
So, Why did I start this Blog?
Number #1 of the 2 very reasons why I needed to start this blog: To chart out into unknown territory, overcome unreasonable fears and call out to those on the shore to "come on out here!". The views out in this like just as the views as we are discovering beauty in diversity are absolutely gorgeous!!! And it's so wonderfully quiet, soul filling peaceful here. Floating in the middle of this tranquil lake feels like a piece of heaven. We get to observe all kind of wildlife I've never seen before or at least never been so close to before. Having paddled out here has broadened my world.
By publishing this post I didn't merely conquer those fears of the unknown, I also paddled a little closer to my recent goal of "learning something new every day".
Yet more than the pure bliss (or thrill or horror) of trying something new, I started this blog because the topic of discovering the beauty in diversity has been on my heart and mind for a long long time.
Number #2 reason I started this blog is because I saw that there was a huge need and desire to find beautiful diverse and authentic literature for young people. Friends repeatedly asked me what books to read with their students or children to bring a broader and diverse world view into their school rooms. So I want to provide some guidance. Especially as I know the feeling of not knowing where to start.
When I began my journey as a teacher and then as a home educator I realized that it was fairly easy to find some kind of material on required subjects such as art, history, science, poetry, language art. However it was very hard to find those subjects covered by a passionate and diverse crowd of scholars and artists who could give my students the depth and richness and diverse role models that I aimed for. And I didn't want to wait till my kids are in high school or college to see them introduced to beautifully diverse concepts and themes in literature. So I began digging. And was amazed at the treasure.
As I began researching books that brought my students a deep joy and appreciation for the different flavors of the world I was blown away by the richness of what I myself learnt in each children's book. With each new book our minds' were enlarged. We fell in love with the picture books as we marveled at the wisdom of ancient queens, the valor of foreign princes, the street smart of urban teenagers and the bravery of desert princesses. Such beauty and wisdom lay hidden in the folk stories of African, Asian, Hispanic and Native American cultures and such.
The stories we read allowed helped my students to form relationship with the characters and therefore helped even my preschoolers to retain important historical or artistic facts easily.
Moreover, these stories created a beautiful bond in our student-teacher relationship. Together we were in awe, together we jumped out of our seats in surprise, together we were saddened at the losses of our heroes and heroines, and together we historically laughed out loud at the unforeseen ending of a story and comic reliefs. Together we traveled the world. From our very desks and chairs and couches we traveled through Ancient Greek potteries, entered Viking fishing villages and searched the pyramids for hidden treasure of King Tut. And we came back better for it.
More than anything I believe my students and I have been and are enriched by the life lessons, the morals of the story if you so will, that undergirded so many of the diverse life's we studied. They surpassed our cultural norms and tradition, yet they held the same core values I aimed to teach my students in common books. These values and virtues were neatly and sometimes humorously packaged in fresh and different colors and fabrics and styles of the particular culture which made them appealing to the students. And we had so much fun unpacking them even when at times they were hard pills to swallow and taught lessons about real life and real history.
Friend, the moment you meet me and we have a conversation you will find I'm a passionate believer in living and learning diverse things. Finding out something new about a culture makes me happy, gives me goose bumps, let's me exclaim a heartfelt "woooow.." to my students. (: I'm genuinely excited to learn new cultures. Maybe because that's my very DNA and heart beat. I've been unintentionally living two cultures since the moment I first opened my eyes in the small German hospital many years ago and looked into the tear filled faces of my German mother and Ghanaian dad. "A Girl!" It's really a girl! Finally someone who broke the string of boys in their families (: So this girl began to wrestle from day one with the reality of growing up in a multi cultural household and with the reality of being a girl in this world. And over the years I realized that this wrestling with your own identity, calling and cultural heritage is of utmost importance for people to become mature, passionate and compassionate human beings.
Lastly, I see this blog as something emerging that will not only exploring diverse children's literature and cultures. I think I'll also throw in there some diverse approaches to topics such as nature, education, parenting, faith, community, maybe love or marriage (my grandfather had 3 wives, ya'll! Talking about different cultural approaches:). But friend that's a different topic for a different day.
Well, welcome to my first blog and may you encounter many treasure ancient and new that will enrich your life, cheer up and refresh your soul with each new encounter!
Ps: bellow is the cup of tea I drank the evening after getting off that paddle boat (;
California based Ghanaian-German educator, writer, bookworm and mama of three. A lover of all things nature, diversity & healthy.
"Education is nothing else than discovery.
And discovery full of diversity is beautiful."
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About the author
My name is Nancy. I'm a teacher, home educator, wife, mother, writer and accidental German-Ghanaian transplant to the U.S., in love with California and all things diversity.