Death, decay and new life

1 November 2009 · 0 comments

in Literacy Outdoors, Nature Play & Learning, Science Outdoors

With the clocks having gone back one week ago, suddenly I feel we’re heading into winter. Signs of death and decay are everywhere from a road killed fox and hedgehog to fallen leaves fluttering down the streets leaving a distinctly ghost town feel to being out and about.

There has been a huge amount of rain which is most unusual for the dry north-east. When I was walking by the local river there wasn’t another soul to be seen. Evidence of recent flooding was everywhere: flooded fields, flattened plants and paths wrecked or eroded by passing high water. Very sadly, only two of the six cygnets have survived on the River Dee near Inverurie.

It is strange that Autumn, the dying season, is so beautiful. The changing colours of leaves, even just on one tree or plant are quite remarkable. This year I managed to find a complete range of colours on local rosebay willow herb, Chamerion angustifolium, which can be seen in the photo.

This activity is easy to undertake with children. The leaves, seeds and shoots can be flattened and dried by pressing them for a few days. You don’t need a formal flower press. Separate the leaves and put them between two sheets of recycled kitchen roll. Place this in the middle of a large hardback book. Then stack more heavy books on top. Flowers can be pressed this way as well as leaves. Different varieties keep their colour better than others and part of the fun is experimenting to find out which dry well.

It’s worth talking about the life cycle of plants and how the process of decomposition aids the growth of new plants in the spring. A finger puppet worm and a story-based approach can make this interesting even for young children. Having a good look at a compost bin can help too. It is possible to make mini composting systems in plastic bottle. In Sweden, at one outdoor nursery, an acetate panel had been added to allow children to view the breakdown of fruit and vegetables when every they wanted to.

There’s also lots of super books which discuss death and it’s role in giving life. Interestingly all of them reflect on aspects of nature. My favourites include:

  • The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judit Viorst. When a boy’s cat dies, he discovers that life continues as flowers grow up over the place where his cat was buried.
  • Northern Lights: The Soccer Trails by Michael Kusugak. A book about an Inuit perspective on death. Beautifully written and illustrated.
  • Waterbugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney. A very short, clever book which explains a Christian concept of heaven. Great for assembly, pond or minibeast projects.
  • On the Day You Were Born by Debra Frasier. This was a present when my son was born. It celebrates the birth of a child through events in nature. Great illustrations and a simple text for young children.
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