Kindergartners get hands-on botany lessons
4:42 p.m., May 23, 2007--“This was one of the best field trips I've ever been on,” Katie Pollock, a kindergarten teacher at UD's Laboratory Preschool, said after a full morning spent with her class on the grounds of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

To cap off a unit on botany, Pollock's student teacher, senior Tracey Gordon arranged for the 20 kindergartners to visit the UD Botanic Gardens and the Fischer Greenhouse recently. “I initially looked into taking the students off campus, but realized we have such great resources here at the university that there's no need to go anywhere else,” Gordon said.

The students traveled from the Lab Preschool to South Campus on a UD shuttle bus, which, in itself, they found exciting, Pollock said. At the UD Botanic Gardens, the “tour guides” were John Frett, professor of plant and soil sciences and director of the gardens, and Melinda Zoehrer, a garden staffer. Both kept the students engaged with hands-on activities, including something as seemingly simple as handing each child a flower. But these flowers weren't to bring home for mom or dad; instead, the children conducted an on-the-spot flower dissection.

“Dr. Frett led the children in an exploration of the parts of a flower,” Gordon said. “He talked about the stamen and pistil and each child then identified these parts. This activity, and the entire tour, was well planned and developmentally appropriate.”

The kindergartners also learned about the differences between deciduous and evergreen trees as they walked through the UDBG, which is a series of 12 gardens on 15 acres. Many trees, shrubs and perennials are now in full flower, including one exotic-looking bloom that a student declared to be a “poison flower.”

The boy may have been a bit let down when Frett informed him that, no, the flower wasn't poisonous. But the Florida anise tree proved exciting enough to make up for that disappointment. A chorus of “ewww” and “yuck” could be heard as the children sniffed the leaves of this broad-leafed evergreen shrub. When crushed, the leaves have an odor that some compare to anise but that the kindergartners declared just plain “stinky.”

After the garden tour, the students visited the Fischer Greenhouse with Tom Sims, associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and research associate Maria Pautler.

“The kids were fascinated by the sprinklers in the greenhouse ceiling, as well as the rolling tables that allow workers easy access to the plants,” Pollock said.

Pautler planted soybeans in three pots, each containing a different type of soil, and talked about the role of soil in plant development. These pots now sit on the windowsill in Pollock's classroom.

“As the seeds sprout and grow, the children will be writing about their progress in science journals,” Pollock said. “This activity should give them a better understanding of how soil types impact plant growth.”

A make-and-take activity capped off the greenhouse tour. Each child was able to choose from a variety of plants from the UD Horticulture Club's annual plant sale and re-pot one flowering plant and one vegetable plant to take home. Afterwards, the students enjoyed a picnic lunch on the grounds of the UD Botanic Gardens.

It was the first visit to College of Agriculture and Natural Resources' facilities by the Laboratory Preschool but Pollock said it won't be the last. “Next year, I plan to see if we can come back, as well as to incorporate other University resources into the curriculum.”

“Our college is always happy to host visits such as this,” Sims said. “We conduct a range of educational programs for K-12 children and teachers throughout the year, many of them led by Delaware 4-H. For me, it's personally rewarding to watch the children as they learn, even at very young age, about how the natural sciences are important to their own lives."

Article by Margo McDonough
Photos by Danielle Quigley