Fifth Grade: Beautiful Botany

“The plant world is the Earth’s soul world made visible, and this is why we can compare it with human beings.  But you should not merely make comparisons; you must also teach the children about the actual forms of the plants.”……”All children, who in their youth learn to know plants according to scientific principles,  should first learn about them as we have described – that is, by comparing them with soul qualities.” – Discussions With Teachers, Discussion Ten, Rudolf Steiner

I think we can get a little hung up in this block if we are not careful.  There is a balance to hold about the study of botany and the ideas that come from anthroposophy about the soul qualities of plants and awakening the feeling life and this sort of scientific botany proper.   I think we hint at the scientific, we work with observation skills needed in all sciences, and we also see the wonder, awe and reverence for the plant world. Scientific botany proper often comes in during the grades 6-8 in ecology and biome discussions, and then a whole block in grade 11.

Some people really balk at Steiner’s analogy about human development compared to plants that he outlines in “Discussions With Teachers.”.   However, one must remember that in the line of Steiner’s thinking, he is not working on the physical level (ie, that physically mushrooms have no complexity, for example)  but the spiritual level in his analogy of expressing the “pleasures of infancy” to mushrooms and fungi ( remember, this is a SOUL quality, he is NOT saying that the mushrooms and fungi are babies!), pleasures of early childhood – algae and mosses; experiences at the awakening of consciousness of self -ferns; experiences of the fifth and sixth year up to school age – gymnosperms and conifers; first school experiences, years 7-11- parallel veined plants, Monocotyledons: experiences of the eleven year old – Simple dicotyledons: and school experiences from the 12-15th year – the net veined plants, Dicotyledons; plants with green calyx and colored petals (page 144, Discussions With Teachers).   There is a lot of information for you to digest in his lectures, which I highly recommend you read before you plan fifth grade! He is also is comparing the different types of plants to the perfect plant as expressed by Goethe as well.

Yet, I personally feel remiss if I don’t mention a little bit about where plants are currently in scientific thought in this block along with some of the anthroposophic ideas about soul qualities of the human being as identified and unfolding in different plants as mentioned above. (See the comments from readers  below for more on this!) I mean, at this point, algae and lichens are not even considered part of the  plant kingdom and I  usally do mention this (I also mention that for most laypeople, however, people still think of them more as plants if we look at things from the perspective of mineral-plant-animal- people, which is why we study them in this block). I don’t think it has to be either -or, but a balance.

Outside of lots of field trips and lots of time to draw out in the field, some of the things I like to do in a general flow as below:

  • The Plant as a meeting of all four elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) along with Time.  The plant as an expression of the human soul in stages of unfolding capacities.
  • How do the seasons work on the plant? (great drawings can come out of this!)
  • Roots (tap roots, fibrous roots, rhizomes, tubers), stems, buds,  leaves
  • Fungi (stem cap, gills) (dying properties) (great for modeling,  drawing with pastels)
  • Algae (great for painting and modeling)
  • Lichen ( I tied into the idea of biomes and relationships with the animals)
  • The Perfected Plant and how some plants attain part of this perfection (like a fern mainly expresses the leaf, horsetail mainly the stem)
  • Mosses (liverwort, mosses, creation of peat, uses of moss)
  • Ferns (the largest division of the plant kingdom) (also great for painting, drawing, modeling)
  • Conifers
  • Monoctylodons, bulbous flowers (see Learning About the World Through Modeling for modeling ideas)
  • Grasses
  • Simple and complex Dicotyledons
  • Trees (look in “New Eyes for Plants”); find out about your state tree if you are in the United States
  • Biomes which will extend into all of the middle school grades….

Resources:

  • Discussions With Teachers, pages 105-135
  • There are numerous suggestions for painting in the book “Painting and Drawing in the Waldorf School”
  • Drawing From The Book of Nature
  • New Eyes for Plants
  • Learning About the World Through Modeling
  • Tree in the Trail by Holling C Holling is a nice read aloud for this block
  • The Internet for legends about plants
  • Your local library

Blessings,
Carrie

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3 thoughts on “Fifth Grade: Beautiful Botany

  1. This is a very timely post, as we are two days into our second botany block, and two days into our study of the stages of the plant kingdom. We just talked about fungi yesterday. My daughter really identified with the idea of mushrooms as babies. I did explain to her that some scientists feel that fungi are in their own “kingdom”. We talked about how there are usually different ways to look at something, and this is one of those cases.

    I think Steiner’s way of looking at this makes perfect sense if you are approaching the four kingdoms in the way that he does. We spent some time in our first botany block with the idea that the mineral kingdom has only a physical body, the plant kingdom has a physical body and life force, the animal kingdom has the physical body, life force, and senses/emotions, and the kingdom of humans has all those plus the ability to reason and be “I” and serve others. Again, this is *one* way to look at life on earth. Not right or wrong, just one way, different than other ways that others may look at it. At least, that’s the tack I took in teaching this. Those same scientists who say that fungi is its own kingdom would also say that humans are part of the animal kingdom rather than in a separate category.

    It kind of surprised me, as I was a bit worried about whether or not my daughter would connect with this block, but the very first day I simply posed the open-ended question, “What plants can you think of that don’t have all the parts of a plant?” (We had just recapped our prior block’s learning about the parts of the plant.) She really took to that question and spent quite a bit of time thinking of different things. It was a great segue-way into our study of the stages of the plant kingdom.

  2. Pingback: Free Lesson Block Plans and Ideas for Grades 4-6 | The Parenting Passageway

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