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Tallgrass Prairie Center

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Wildflower Season

Adapted from Keepers of the Earth

* Educators please refer to New to Nature for information on becoming comfortable teaching through the outdoors

Overall Activity

The teacher will narrate a ‘play’ of the seasonal life cycle of a wildflower. Students will begin curled up on the floor of a classroom (or outside!) as though they are seeds that have yet to sprout. Refer to Procedure for detailed instructions.

Grade Range and Relevant Iowa Standards: K - 2nd

  • K-ESS3-1. Use a model to represent the relationship between the needs of different plants or animals (including humans) and the places they live.
  • 1-LS1-1. Use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs.
  • 2-LS2-2. Develop a simple model that mimics the function of an animal in dispersing seeds or pollinating plants.

Goals/Objectives:

  • Understanding of the life cycle of plants
  • Understanding of plants responses to varying temperatures, day lengths, and levels of moisture as seasons change

Materials:

  • Construction paper, glue, tape, white confetti/shredded paper
  • Dried beans for seeds; small paintbrushes with small containers of flour
  • Children dressed as the following: a bee, the sun, a cloud with rain (spray bottle w/water), the wind with long streamers attached

Procedure:

  1. Ask your students to identify the seasons and the first thing they think about for each of the seasons to introduce the activity. Discuss the characteristics of each and the changes that occur throughout the year.
  2. Tell the students they will go through a whole life cycle growing season pretending as though they are a wildflower as you narrate a play. You could pick a specific wildflower or give them choices, but make sure it is an annual. 
  3. Before the narration of the play begins:
    • Each child creates a flower hat from construction paper that could be glued/taped to the top of another decorated ring of paper that fits the head. These will be kept nearby each child during the play.
    • One child will make a bee outfit with wings, antennae, & three pairs of legs (consider birds or butterflies as well for multiple pollinators). The bee will need a paintbrush and flour (the pollen) to ‘pollinate’ the flowers. 
    • Other children will need to play the roles of the sun, wind, and rain and will respond to your cues as you read the play
    • Perhaps read through the play once so the children understand their roles and your cues
    • Then stand up front and lead the children through various movements as they complete a 1-year growing cycle of the wildflower
  4. Children will begin as unsprouted seeds curled up on the floor or ground as you narrate the play copied below.

Extensions:

  • Refer to Iowa’s Nature Series for additional resources on plants & prairies
  • Gather leaves during the fall or perhaps at other times of the year. Have students study their chosen leaf for several minutes, mix them up in a pile, and have them try to pick theirs out. 
  • Make a leaf mobile through collected foliage from outside after pressing them with newspaper.
  • Take clippings of plants as they are dormant outside and place them in water to see the ones that may bloom indoors. The ones that do respond may be more sensitive to temperature changes and the ones that have not responded may be more sensitive to day length changes (not affected by the warmth of the indoors). Use a sunlamp for the nonresponsive plants to induce a longer ‘day’ condition to induce blooming. This may work best when the dormant plants have experienced several months of short days & cold temperatures outdoors.

Prairie Connections (some information sourced from Iowa’s Nature Series):

  • Compass plant is a highly recognizable flowering plant, an icon of the tallgrass prairie, and its range includes the entire state of Iowa. ‘Compass’ refers to the orientation of its leaves that face east and west for sun exposure. They are pollinated by various bees and frequently used as perches for birds as they can grow up to ten feet tall. 
  • Consider the Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum) or other members of the Silphium genus like prairie dock or cup plant (they grow tall!) as examples for the students to create their flower hats or helpful visual displays.
  • Prairie Roots: To help your students visualize the life cycle of how these plants return from dormancy year after year consider using prairie root displays and pictures from the attached link
  • Irvine Prairie Wildflower Guide - Photos, names, and fun facts!

Wildflower Season Narrated Play

You are a seed resting in the soil. Winter is moving north and the soil around you feels warm and wet. Slowly you begin to unfold. Your root goes down into the soil and your sprout pushes upward. In a few days your leaves begin to unfold (their arms stretch out) and they poke up out of the dark soil into the bright, warm sun (the sun walks briskly across the room among the flowers). You grow taller and taller. You can feel the sap flowing through your veins. Your green leaves stretch wider and higher toward the sun (arms and fingers reaching higher).

As spring turns into summer, a bud forms on your head and finally opens into a beautiful flower (put flower hats on). Feel the long, hot days of summer (pause here as the sun walks slowly across the room) and imagine the patter of rain upon your leaves  and flower petals (pause as the rain cloud walks through the flowers and lightly sprays them with water, while the wind follows behind blowing the rain cloud along). On some cool mornings there are beads of dew on your leaves and petals glistening in the sun.

One day a bee buzzes over and she is covered with pollen from other flowers. She nips nectar and gets pollen from your flower and she leaves pollen from another flower to help your seeds grow. (Bee buzzes around to each flower using the paintbrush to dust pollen [flour] onto each flower’s head).

The days grow short during the fall (sun walks briskly across the room) and one morning you find that frost has frozen your leaves and you are shriveled up (they take off the flower hats and fold arms). But now you have seeds where you had none before. (Go around and place seeds in their hands). One day a cold, hard wind blows (wind blows through the plants) and your seeds shake loose and fall to the soil (they let the seeds drop to the floor or ground). There is not much left of you now and the days are very short (sun runs through the flowers). You are a dead, dried up brown stalk when the first snow comes (cloud comes through throwing shredded paper or white confetti for snow). But in the soil your withered roots are resting the seeds that will make new life when the long days, warm weather, and rainstorms come again in the springtime.