I will never forget the pain in my son’s voice as we walked home from school one fall day, “Mom, put them back on the trees!” In his three-year-old mind, the leaves were falling and would never return. I immediately thought of Leo Buscaglia’s touching book on death and dying, “The Fall of Freddie the Leaf.” I read that book to my older son when his great-grandfather died, so somehow, I naturally find myself contemplating death and dying during this, my favorite season of the year.
But I’m not going there in this post. I’m thinking about a very small child’s lack of experience with changing seasons, the cycle of life on earth. That miraculous cycle teaches so much about change on a big and small scale. My little one checked the trees all through that third winter of his life, never forgetting the leaves, sort of trusting that I was right and that they would grow back in Spring, but needing to see it with his own eyes. Experiential learning. Nature’s object lesson. He needed to see it, not just to believe it, but to begin to understand the way trees live and ultimately life itself. He was one happy kid come spring.
Herbaceous perennials teach this lesson well too. In our PreK garden, two plants are featured to show the cycle of seasons. They are herbaceous perennials, one blooms in spring and its leaves change color in fall (Amsonia, Bluestar); the other blooms in fall and provides seeds for wildlife in winter (Sedum spectabile, Neon Stonecrop). This year, the students planted daffodil bulbs in the same beds to help them understand what it means to say the plants are still alive underground in the winter even though the visible part has died on the surface. They also used the bulb to begin the discussion of plant parts. In Spring, they will watch all three plants emerge from the soil again and grow … then they will begin to truly understand.