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Delightful Dandelion Days

Guest blogger: Diann Gano, M.Ed.

Every spring we look forward to the arrival of anything green, growing and grand! We especially delight with the beauty of dandelions; the lovely weeds those gardeners everywhere try to rid from their lawns! Dandelions bring a lot of math adventures to our program and this year succeeded beyond our expectations! Our neighborhood park is our favorite destination for exploring dandelions and this spring we were lucky enough to time it just hours before the mowers arrived!

Our spring dandelion days create hours and hours of exploration, inquisition and just plain observation! There was plenty of math happening everywhere we turned. One day we collected dandelions just to see how many we could collect. The five year olds collected more than one hundred, while the two year olds were happy with six. That is developmentally appropriate math right there! When we find ourselves in these nature-based outdoor classrooms, the learning is always developmentally appropriate and always child centered. It is the beauty of learning in a place that gives us everything we need. “When you look at a field of dandelions, you can either see a hundred weeds, or a hundred wishes.” We had plenty of math vocabulary going as we searched for the longest and shortest dandelions. We looked at the circumference of the flower, and made flower bracelets out of them. We discussed the number of pedals. We found the pattern of petals and I introduced them to the term “Fibonacci”, a number pattern that we often find in nature. On this day, the flowers were too tall to spend much time on patterns. We kept finding longer and longer stems, some with flowers, some with wispy white seed heads! We discovered that we could divide the stems in half! Wait! We could even split them into four sections! Would it be possible to blow through a stem? Would it make a whistling sound? Would it taste bitter? The investigation and process of discovery with dandelions was fast and furious, yet lasted for hours. This was math at their level, on their timetable. Why would we rush this?

I watched as some very young children could subitize better than their older friends. Subitizing is the ability to “see” a small number of objects and know how many are there without counting. When we roll a dice, we don’t need to count the pips, we know the number when we see it! Some children seem to grasp this concept with ease while others need to work with it a bit more. We subitize a lot in our program, and being the math geek that I am, it just fascinates me to watch the difference in learning styles as this concept becomes effortless!

Giggles and screams of discovery were filling the hillside as our dandelion math morning took on a life of it’s own. They began to classify, grouping according to length or size of the flower head. I watched as a game developed of who could find the tallest one. When you are yards away from your friend AND on a hill, it is hard to distinguish until you pick it and compare sizes! Then the realization comes that you need to pick at the very, very bottom of the stem! This was a concept that was way beyond the comprehension of some of our younger friends, as hard as their peers tried to teach them. Ah, the beauty of multi-age groups. The beauty of allowing learning to enter as the brain and physical development allow. The beauty of friendships and childhood on a sunny spring day, when all the stars align and the learning comes so naturally.

Diann Gano, M.Ed.

Diann Gano—who opened her family child care program, Under the Gingko Tree in 1986—has long believed that "the earth gives us what we need to learn" and that nature is "the perfect environment for little brains to grow and learn in every day." While conducting research for her master’s thesis on outdoor learning in early childhood settings, she learned about the Nature Explore Classroom Certification Program, which recognizes schools and other organizations that have made a commitment to providing outdoor classrooms and comprehensive programming to help children use the natural world as an integral part of learning. She enrolled in the Nature Explore Classroom certification program after completing her master’s degree in 2010, and Under the Ginkgo Tree was certified as a Nature Explore Certified Outdoor Classroom Program in 2011. A member of the Erikson Family Child Care Portal Project Advisory Board, Gano has also participated in the Erikson Institute’s Early Childhood Leadership Summit and served as a webinar panelist for Town Square Illinois, an online resource and professional development tool for home-based providers. She has presented at the local, state and national levels on topics such as indoor and outdoor learning environments, the importance of loose parts in early math education and the impact of immersion in the natural world on brain development in young children. In 2016, Gano was honored as a recipient of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Child Care Innovator Award for creating a school environment that inspires children to become more active and engaged learners. In May 2019, she received the prestigious Terri Lynn Lokoff/Children’s Tylenol National Teacher Award, which honors 50 outstanding early child care professionals across the nation each year for making a lasting difference in the lives of the children they serve and setting them on a path to success in school and in life. She received her BS in liberal arts from Western Illinois University and her MEd in education from St. Mary of the Woods College in Indiana.

Read more posts by Diann Gano, M.Ed.

3 Replies to “Delightful Dandelion Days”

  1. that is a fantastic idea. my daughter too loves the outdoors next time we are out this will be a good way of teaching her about math and making it fun

  2. There is nothing that is more fun than learning without knowing you are learning something while you are having the time of your life.

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