It’s been a while since they stopped blooming, but the sunflowers keep on providing learning opportunities! (The sunflowers did keep growing surprisingly late in the warm fall we had, so they provided lots of interesting learning out in the garden for a while too.)
With a donation of lots of different sunflower seed varieties last spring, a few Kindergarten classes planted a whole bunch of sunflower seeds in the Blake school garden. We planted a bunch of varieties: Giganteus, Early Russian, Velvet Queen, Teddy Bear, Autumn Beauty… Gotta love plant variety names!
They resulted in the best sunflower crop we’ve had in any of my school gardens! A few of them grew super tall with huge blossoms! (Not sure if the tallest ones were Russian Mammot, Giganteus, or Early Russian varieties.) I heard from a number of community members not connected with the school about the wonderful huge sunflowers at Blake Street. My landlords told me that their 2-year old would get excited about walking past the school to watch how tall the sunflowers had grown. A daycare worker at one of my other schools asked me if I’d seen the wonderful tall sunflowers at Blake’s garden. :-) They definitely drew some good attention to the school garden.
It was good that we planted tons of seeds in the spring, as I think there are some local rabbits who have found the garden over the past year or two… Far from all of the seeds grew into full-grown blooming sunflowers, but we had planted so many that a good number still flourished. I don’t see the garden very much over the summer, and every time I went by, I was amazed by the size of the sunflowers (and well, impressed by how well the garden was doing in general!).
As I mentioned, the sunflowers provided lots of different learning opportunities. Early in the school year, I often do a garden scavenger hunt with Kindergarten classes which I call “Let’s Meet the Garden”. The scavenger hunt addresses a Kindergarten math requirement of “measuring using non-standard units”. We look for things longer than a trowel, smaller than a garden glove, etc. Well of course the giant sunflowers were fun to explore – they were definitely longer than a trowel! One class even discovered that some of the sunflowers were taller than their teacher, Mr Stoch! :-) It was also really great for the students who are now in Senior Kindergarten and in Grade 1 to see the plants that they had planted from seed just a few months before, having grown way taller than them!
Observing the sunflower blossoms up close was really neat too, both for the kids and myself. It was neat to clearly see that each sunflower “blossom” actually holds hundreds (if not thousands) of actual blossoms – each seed has its own bloom which needs to get pollinated. I found these super fascinating up close, resulting in a ton of close-up photos!
We definitely found lots of pollinators and other beneficial insects visiting our sunflowers – different bee varieties, ladybugs… We also talked about how sunflower seeds could be good food for squirrels or birds over the winter (but decided not to leave many out there for them, as we don’t want too many of those critters getting used to finding food in our school food garden…)
The sunflowers even saved the day for me one rainy day at the end of October. I had made outdoor plans with a couple of classes, but figured out the night before that it was promising to be pouring rain all day. Last minute lesson changes… eeek! Then I remembered that I had all sorts of sunflower seed heads that I’d brought inside – we could explore those! With a Kindergarten class, I read a sunflower storybook, and then in small groups, we used magnifying glasses to just observe the sunflower seed heads up close – we looked at the dried blossoms, checked out the seeds… We even weighed the seed heads (the biggest one was around 3 pounds!). With the grade ones, it turned into a bigger seed activity – with their teacher, they removed the seeds from the pumpkin which would become their jack-o-lantern and counted/estimated the number of seeds in there. With the other half of the class, we checked out the sunflower seed heads up close. And I had also brought a bunch of different seeds which we could describe using different attributes (size, shape, colour, etc), and since they had been learning about patterns in math, they then also made patterns using the seeds. Lots of creativity!
I was also very curious about how many seeds all of these seed heads had. So amazing how many seeds come from just one seed having been planted! The grade 4/5s did some estimating (using some different estimating strategies), and then a few weeks later, the grade 1/2s started counting the seeds… Turns out that’s a longer project that just an hour or so… We started by reading a book called “How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin” – among other things, the book talks about estimating, and also about counting by 2s, 5s and 10s. A nice story – definitely a good one to have in one’s Garden Educator library. The students then worked in groups and started removing the seeds from the seed heads, and then counting them by 10s. Each group had a different sunflower seed head. The group that counted the most got to about 400… and they weren’t even close to being done. (So many seeds!) A project for me to finish over the winter…
And now, what to do with all of the seeds!?! We’ll definitely plant some in the spring. Some folks have suggested roasting and eating some, but I feel like they’re maybe not clean enough. One idea I’ve had is to use some for sprouting/growing shoots in a classroom using our growlights… So I have to find a class that would be into that project.
As many of you surely know, I get pretty excited about and fascinated by seeds, so these sunflowers have been lots of fun for me! But even more fun is when I see students get excited about them too – watching the sunflowers grow, seeing how tall they were, observing the insects visiting the blossoms, examining the development of the seeds, estimating and counting the numbers of seeds (and getting legitimately blown away by the numbers…)… Though the initial fascination with the various aspects of these sunflowers may have been prompted by me, it’s great to see the kids’ own curiosity take over as they go back to observe them week after week, show them to their parents after school, ask questions…
Happy growing (and planning and seed counting…)!