Teacher Feature: Four Year Old Classroom Explores Seed Dispersal

As part of our upcoming partnership with the National Academy of Sciences. We are re-posting this blog. SEEC will be exploring seeds at their upcoming Family Day on Saturday, April 13. Learn more.


Today we’re featuring the four-year-old Cinnamon Bear class, led by Krystiana Kaminski and John Fuller. The class is currently learning about plants and food through a Seed to Table unit. On this particular day the groups explored seed dispersal with a visit to the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden located between the Arts and Industries building and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Below you will find images from the lesson, as well as reflections from the teachers. 

Cover Photo

We chose to embark on this unit for several reasons. Throughout the year we have observed how fascinated the children are with the natural world. They love to dig in the soil on the playground and often ask to play in the grass on The Mall after one of our museum visits. It’s amazing how much they enjoy playing amongst the trees for long periods of time without any other equipment! This topic came up last year as our previous class had similar interests, and we thought there were ways we could improve upon it the lessons and tailor it to this class ‘particular interests.

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Krystiana began the lesson by reminding the children of a book they had read earlier in the morning about seeds.  The children were already familiar with the concept that seeds are what new plants are born from. Krystiana asked the children what would happen if seeds just fell to the ground and stayed where the original plant was. To explore this question further, several children pretended to be apple seeds that dropped from the same apple tree. They grew up into big tall trees and noticed how close they were together. They realized that their close proximity might make it hard for them to all get sunlight and nutrients.

The week before this lesson we did an introduction to the unit and talked a little about how most plants grow from seeds. We also read a few books about seeds as a sneak peek to get them ready for our week-long exploration of seeds.

I like to introduce our topics through multiple methods and then, when possible, integrate them into all parts of the day. For example, I like to have a few books that I’ll read to them throughout the week. Sometimes when teaching a topic that is more complex, I’ll use lots of different books. Often times I’ll prefer the way one book explains one thing but how another is clearer or has better pictures and I’ll mix and match. I also like to include video clips, songs, and actions into a lesson, as I believe it’s beneficial for young children to receive information in multiple ways.

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Now that the children understood the importance of seeds’ need to travel, they talked about how this might happen. The first way Krystiana shared was through animals. To illustrate this, two children pretended to be elephants eating fruit. They wandered away and Krystiana told them that the elephants needed to poop. They had great fun making the elephants poop, and Krystiana told the group that while it might seem silly, the elephant poop had the seeds from the fruit they ate, so the seeds had successfully traveled!

This particular class LOVES to tell stories and act things out. We did a whole unit called Myths and Legends after observing how much they loved telling stories to each other at lunch. They were also given the opportunity to act out a story they wrote during our Performing Arts unit. We wanted to be thoughtful about how we could make this unit accessible and one idea was to integrate acting into the lessons, hence the props. This was a fun challenge for us teachers, as it made us think outside the box in regards to our planning. For this lesson, I did some research and was inspired by the forest elephants found in the Congo Basin. As the largest frugivores on Earth, they play a huge role in seed dispersal and are an important part of the eco-system. I then got some toy elephants, a green table cloth, and some real pieces of fruit to use as props. Whenever possible I like to use actual materials for props, as it helps make the lesson more concrete. Pictures can also work well but actually having something the children can hold in their hands helps bring a lesson to life. In this case, we were able to cut open the apple to look at the seeds inside. We then had the elephants “poop” out the seeds as they were travelling across the Congo Basin (green table cloth).

I knew the children would get really silly when I mentioned elephant poop, so I did a quick reminder beforehand. I told them that we are thinking like scientists and instead of getting really silly we can say, “How interesting”. Of course, they still got pretty silly for a bit. I then said I was going to count down from five to let them get their sillies out but then it was all done. After the countdown I did a sing-song, “It’s all done. It’s all done.” They joined in that chant and then we were able to continue the lesson.

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Seeds are usually quite small so I wanted to have some blown up images that clearly demonstrate the outer part of the seeds that use spikes to catch on to fur or clothing. I matched them to the pictures of the flowers they came from in the hope that we would find some on our garden walk. I think it’s important to use real-life pictures of things, especially things in nature, as children this age can have trouble with transference, so they benefit from seeing real-life pictures.

Ensuring that each child gets a turn with the images, while still listening to myself and others can be challenging, as oftentimes the children will get so hung up on who is passing to who that they stop listening to the lesson. Because I wanted them to look closely at the pictures and observe the interesting shape of these seeds I had them pass it around. Later on in the garden, I did not have them pass, as they were seated in a configuration that would have made it unsuccessful. Instead, I showed the pictures as I walked past them.

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Krystiana explained that there are four other ways that seeds disperse, and that they would learn about them in a garden. The class was very excited to get into the garden and were eagerly pointing out flowers that looked similar to the ones they had seen in the classroom. 

I love this garden and the layout of it is ideal for individual exploration, as it is relatively enclosed. A wide variety of flowers grow there and I was hoping that some of the flowers I chose for the lesson would be in the garden. We are lucky to have access to these amazing places and I try to utilize them as much as possible. However, if I did not have this access, I would still have tried to teach parts of this lesson outside. They were so excited to search for seeds and the conversations they were having amongst themselves would not have taken place if we remained in the classroom.

Children at this age learn through sensory experiences, not just abstract information. They need to be able to categorize it in their head and much of their previous knowledge has been sensory. By giving them real things we are also making them active participants’ of their environment, which is crucial for concept development.

teacher feature seed disposal wind

The group sat down on a couple of benches, and Krystiana shared another way that seeds travel: wind. She showed images of flowers that utilize wind for seed dispersal and they noticed the physical characteristics that help seeds travel in the wind, such as small, light seeds and cup shaped flowers that dump out the seeds when they blow in the wind.  The children pretended to hold a flower and blow like the wind, imagining the seeds traveling on the gusts.

A colleague of mine introduced to me to the Total Physical Response (TPR) method of teaching language or vocabulary concepts. One of the main concepts is attaching movements to actions. I’ve found it to be very effective with young children. In my experience, they remember concepts better when attached to a movement especially if it’s a fun way to move their body. A few weeks after this lesson, when we were reviewing what we learned, one of the children talked about how the poppy seeds are stored in a cup that needs to be tipped over by the wind in order to disperse. As she was explaining this she was using the same motions we did as a class.

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Next, Krystiana shared images of flowers that use force for seed dispersal. She described how some flowers’ seeds dry out in the sun and then bursts or launches out of the flower. The children enjoyed pretending that their hands were seeds and launching them.

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Then it was time to search for seeds and make observations.

This group of children are very respectful when given non-visual boundaries in the environment so we are able to let them explore either independently or in a small group quite often. We are big on personal responsibility in our room and one way we practice this is by giving them opportunities to show us they can handle responsibilities.

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Each child received a magnifying glass, as seeds can be very small. 

The magnifying glasses were a last minute touch as I brainstormed the lesson on my way to work. I think they were helpful in that they were something they could hold which made them less likely to touch the actual flowers.

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The group spent a long time examining the flowers in the garden and predicting how the seeds spread from each flower. 

There were lots of seeds on the ground and the children were really excited about those. The flower seeds were pretty difficult to spot due to their size. The children asked some questions I did not know the answer to and I reminded them that we can always do more research when we get back to school.

I think allowing the children independent exploration time gave them an opportunity to talk amongst themselves about the things they were looking for and many of them were using the language I had used in the lesson. On the other hand, some children were frustrated when they couldn’t find a lot of seeds and I had to remind them that they are very small and they may not be able to find them.

Teacher Feature Seed Dispersal water

To end their time in the garden, Krystiana shared that water is the last way that seeds disperse. She showed images of mangrove seeds and noticed that they were large and boat shaped – a great shape to float on the water and travel!

I broke up the different seed dispersal methods, as there were quite a few and I didn’t want them sitting for too long. I was considering taking them to an area that had a small body of water to discuss the role of water in seed dispersal but realized the lesson would get too long. I was actually planning on doing that part later in the day but the children were still engaged and focused so I added it to the end. I try to be flexible in my lessons as there have been times when nothing seems to be working and I’ll realize that we are better off cutting a lesson short. Or, the children may get really interested in one part of a lesson and then I will extend that part. Luckily, we are an emergent curriculum school and are given the flexibility to base our lessons on their interests.

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Before heading back to school, the class went across the street to the National Mall in search of dandelions. Everyone found at least one to blow on and watched as the seeds floated away. The class determined that dandelions use the wind method for seed dispersal.

We had not talked about dandelions prior to this lesson, but they are such a familiar, easy to find flower so I really wanted to add them to the lesson. Also, they are the perfect example of the wind dispersal method!

If I were to do this lesson again, I would have liked to have had some actual seeds the children could hold as it would show them how they are often very small. It also would have been great to have different sized seeds that they could observe and do observational drawing of later in the classroom.

After learning more about seeds, the class continued with their Seed to Table unit, exploring pollination, fruits, vegetables, and grains. For more ideas, visit our food Pinterest board!

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