The experiences that children happen upon or the experiences that are created for them should be adventuresome ones—remarkable ones—ones that help make the familiar unfamiliar, and ones that center around the idea that everything in nature is always becoming something else.
One day, a teacher gathered a group of children around him to start botany. It was nearing springtime and the conversation went like this:
Don: I saw something the other day and I wonder if any of you can guess what it is. If you can, don’t say what it is! I went out in the grass, and saw something about ten inches high . . .
Children: Was it a rock? A stick? A plant?
Don: It was a plant, probably in your back yard. And on top of it was a little ball of fluff, and if you went WOOF, a whole galaxy of stars few out!
Don: Well, it looks like stars when you blow on it. And the ‘stars’ blow around on the wind.
Children: (getting excited) I know what it is!
Don: Now what was it like before the little ball of stars appeared?
Jackie: It was a little flower, like a sunflower, only very small.
Don: And what was it like before that?
Mary: It was like a little green umbrella, half closed, with a yellow lining showing out.
Don: Yes, and what was it like before that?
Jim: It was a little bunch of green leaves coming out of the ground.
Don: Now, do you all know what it is?
Children: (ready to explode & roaring back) It’s a DANDELION!!
Don: That’s right!
Polly: The stem looks like a straw! It’s hollow in the center. Don: Yes! And the name dandelion comes from the French words dent-de-lion or teeth of the lion – that’s because of the toothed shape of it’s green leaves.
Mary: We used to make necklaces and headbands out of dandelions.
Susan: My grandmother drinks dandelion tea, she says it helps her aching hip.
Don: That’s right. Since as far back as the tenth century, people have used different parts of the dandelion for medicines and food. The dandelion was brought to the colonies by settlers for remedies for various illnesses and for things like tea and salads.
Jim: Ewww… Dandelions in your salad?!
Don: Well, when the plant is just a tiny bunch of leaves, called a rosette of leaves, the leaves are very tender and tasty. I remember visiting one of the families where I first taught in a one-room school in Kentucky. When I arrived, the mother was on her knees picking leaves from plants. They were dandelion leaves. Back then I didn’t understand why she was picking “weeds” – only to learn at supper with the family how tender and delicious they were in the fresh salad.
Kathy: When I was little, we used to blow all the puffs off and make wishes on them.
Don: Yes, some old tales tell us that the fluffy seeds will carry your wish to a loved one. Now, have any of you ever picked dandelions?
Children: (Most of the children said yes.)
Don: Well, was what you picked really a dandelion?
Polly: Yes, I picked some to give to my mom, once.
Don: Well, what did you pick? Some of those balls of fluffy seeds?
Polly: Yeah, and some yellow flowers.
Don: Okay, I have been wondering about something. Is it really possible to pick a dandelion?
Andy: Sure, why not?
Don: Well, from listening to all of your great observations, we have seen that there are so many different parts, or growth stages, in a dandelion, and they’re not all the same. Sometimes we find the balls of fluff — the seeds, and sometimes we find the yellow flower. And then, we also can find the little bunch of lion’s teeth, or green leaves, and even the little umbrella with a yellow lining. So, for me, a dandelion is all of these. Does this make sense to everyone?
John: Yes! When I am playing my trumpet in the school
band, the sounds I make are a part of the whole song – just part
of the music that is being created.
Kathy: When my big sister was in the school play, and she was practicing her lines at home, they sounded so dumb, without the other people in the play. But when we went to see the play, her lines made sense!
Don: You’re right! So whatever we pick, we only get a fragment, or a portion, of something. Perhaps we can’t “pick” a dandelion, because a dandelion isn’t a thing, it’s a performance. Just like the whole band performance, or the entire play. So, we aren’t really “picking” a dandelion, we are picking a portion of the dandelion’s unique performance.
Polly: (smiling) Wow! I can’t wait to see dandelions, again! I will look at them in a new way! They are a performance!
Don: And, you know, everything is a performance—even you.