What promise there is in the new plant or seed. We spend time with our child taking it out of the package with excitement. We use our hands to place the messy potting soil, plant food, seed or small plant, and water into a pot, and we wait with anticipation about what will come out. Regularly we check the plant, looking at the pot, the little stem, the developing leaves, and possibly, if we're lucky, some buds for flowers and fruit. Our joy is enhanced if we get to pick a flower, tomato, or strawberryfrom the plant, realizing some of the promise we had when we first planted it.
Does that excitement end when the plant eventually succumbs to the weather, dying in its season? It doesn't have to! Here in the Comfy household, dead plants are as exciting as live ones! They can be as entertaining, and possibly last just as long. Who needs new plastic toys that break easily when nature provides so many activities for free! In this case, the ability to engage with a living, and then dead thing over the course of a whole year for a few pennies and some dirty hand work.
This May Joshua, Jan and I picked up some seeds and small plants for our balcony garden. Joshua loves working with his hands, and who can pass up a decent tomato and strawberry? We also got some impatience (flowers) just because we thought they were pretty. Not everything has to bear fruit, a lesson Jeremy is still working on learning. We dug in the potting soil, planted our seeds, and were very excited throughout the summer to check on our plants, their progress, help them when they needed water, and sincerely engage with nature in what way we can from the third floor of an apartment building.
Inevitably, the seasons began to shift, summer transitioned to fall, and the fruit and vegetable plants began their slow demise. This offered us the chance to watch and participate in the full life-cycle of a living thing. We had fun taking the plants out of the pots, getting our hands dirty in the soil again. What wonder there was at the root system. We hadn't seen any of that over the summer, yet there it was, under the soil, prolific and possibly more abundant than the fruit or flowers we did see over the past few months. We also got to take a pair of scissors and cut away at the decaying stem of the tomato plant, cutting it into easily manageable for four year-old hands sections. These sections we explored, looking at their hollow innards, the still moist rings around that hollow center, and figuring out that each could be used as a stick, or post in the now balcony covering pile of exhumed potting soil.
What a mess we made, and what fun it was to make, taking these plants out of their pots, discovering their secrets, and realizing that life takes many forms.
Over the next few weeks we were able to revisit our balcony botany lab regularly, moving the soil around with our hands, sweeping it into multiple piles, and using our tracked and wheeled excavators to shift the now very dirt impregnated potting soil from one place to another. Who knows how many hours of entertainment we derived from these simple seeds and small plants purchased so many months ago? Who knows how many times Jan and I had to figure out new ways to get Joshua to wash his hands at the end of each night before dinner because of all of the playing in the soil? Who knows what all of us learned in this process? We do know, though, that it was a lot of fun!
Eventually dad, that's me, was done with all of the soil strewn across the balcony. Together, Joshua and I cleaned it up, putting it in paper grocery bags so that it would decompose well. We swept, scooped, and shoveled it away, preparing our balcony for a frigid and less often visited winter. From May until the end of September, despite living in an apartment, we were able to live with, work with, and learn from nature. We explored the lifecycle of many different plants, and we even cleaned up after ourselves when we were done.
What kind of stuff do you do yourself or with your kids that allows you to learn from nature?
How do you play with messy?
How long does it take for you to entertain messy before cleaning it up?
We'd love to hear from you about how you use living and inanimate objects as entertainment and education.