Understanding the World

A child’s eye view of life cycles in springtime

Here in the UK, our gardens and parks are starting to fill with new growth on plants and colourful flowers have begun to appear. It is an ideal time to take young children out to have a look and to talk about spring and what happens in springtime

The world is changing around them – through looking, listening, and even a little gardening, they can begin to recognise that some important natural processes are taking place and even begin to understand the sequences with which these changes occur.

During a recent visit to a local park, my granddaughter Daisy sat down on a comfortable log to have a good long look at an abundant stretch of naturalised daffodils alongside a nearby row of trees. She asked her daddy if she could take a photograph of the flowers in the park to send to the rest of the family.

A large patch of daffodils is show in a park in early Spring
Daisy took this photo of some local daffodils herself

Her appreciation of, and curiosity about, local flora continued during a FaceTime call the following week, when she produced her namesake flower, a real daisy, for my appreciation. She told me that at her nursery they can pick daisies in their outside play area, but they cannot pick the daffodils.

(This is probably safest – in fact, all parts of the daffodil are poisonous, as the National Trust explains “Florists and daffodil pickers are familiar with the rash that can be caused when the stalk’s sap comes into contact with the skin.”)

Daisy has spotted that the daffodils, which she sees at school, in her back garden and at the park, are all changing as they grow. She discovered daffodils in bud and was able to observe that, over the course of a few days, the bud was gradually changing colour and shape, and that a flower was emerging! 

The daffodils are still in full bloom but soon that will change and it will be possible to show Daisy that these flowers do not stay around for long. They slowly age and decay, so savouring their fleeting beauty is one of the highlights of the season (and there are always additional creative uses for cut flowers).

These kinds of observations can be enhanced by a look at the photographs that Daisy took with Daddy, and he is planning to take more photographs of the changing daffodils, so that together they can look back at these gradual alterations.

Another tool Daisy and Daddy could use is her jumbo magnifying lens, which she has used to observe insects and minibeasts in the past. 

Understanding natural sequencing

Every week at Daisy’s nursery the class shares a new reading book – usually a short story. However, Daisy told me that last week the reading book was not a story, and was instead all about flowers. 

She relayed this news during a video call while she was simultaneously absorbed with drawing and colouring in a new notebook. Perhaps prompted by her morning activities at nursery, Daisy had decided to draw several nice open daffodils and then a shorter daffodil still in bud. She added a thick line of brown crayon to represent the soil and finished off with some dashes of blue around the scene to suggest the rain. Finally, she expanded the bud to make the flower she had drawn open up a little.

A montage of images of daffodils and a preschool child's drawings of daffodils
After seeing so many daffodils around her, Daisy was inspired to draw her own!

As she chatted to me and drew her picture, Daisy described the sequence of growth being shown in her images. It seemed that in her nursery class, Daisy had also learnt about what a daffodil needed in order to grow and flower. 

In a previous blog on story sacks I enjoyed Eric Carle’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar book with Daisy. A few days ago, Daisy’s childminder read the same story to the children in her setting and each child laced together their own little homemade copy of the story, showing the caterpillar’s progress through the week. 

This gave Daisy another opportunity to sequence the lifecycle of a butterfly. She was also able to recite the story near faultlessly as she presented her finished work!

Whether you’re looking at the life cycle of a butterfly or a daffodil, observing new growth and helping your child to understand it is one of the great joys of spring.

Or rather, of ‘meaty-logical spring’ as Daisy has taken to calling it, following lengthy parental debates about precisely when the season begins.

Granny Smith says…

  • If you’re looking for other ways to explore natural life cycles with your preschooler, you could also consider either some rudimentary seed planting as part of messy play. Packets of seeds and plants are widely available in shops, supermarkets and garden centres. This could be an opportunity to pick something familiar and something unfamiliar together and to follow the life cycle of those plants at home and in your garden.
A preschooler moves a wheelbarrow through a spring garden, with daffodils in the foreground
Daisy has always enjoyed the garden spring – here she is, aged two and a half, when visiting one’s grandparents was a much easier proposition!

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