As our spaces feel smaller and distance learning begins to lose any sheen of novelty it may have had, it is uplifting to see buds give way to blossoms and blooms in the city. It also occurred to me, as I walked at a proper social distance, in the park, that I knew the name of every flower and flowering tree I came across.
This is science. And it was not a teacher who taught me this. It was my mother. Every spring throughout my childhood, she pointed out the progression of flowers and blossoming trees.
Look, Lydie, the crocuses!
Now the daffodils are out—and the tulips!
Do you see the forsythia?
The red bud is in bloom!
Oh, the magnolia!
As a tween, it got pretty annoying. Mom’s arm jutting this way and that, insisting I look up from my book or my own thoughts to witness spring. But over time the names stuck and her enthusiasm for spring flowers and flowering trees has now rubbed off on me.
As a teacher, I also grew to appreciate the fact that she gave me all those names. Naming the natural world is a great way, maybe the oldest way, to foster an interest in science. The ability to name helps children build on their curiosity and talk about the world they see.
There are always ways to raise the stakes with naming too. If you give your child the name “daffodil,” for example, you may also want to mention the parts of the daffodil: the petal, the stem, the leaf, the corona or cup.
If you give a child the name “red bud,” you may also want to point out the way the red bud flowers grow in clusters directly from the main stems or trunk rather than from shoots, a phenomenon called “cauliflory.”
In our Parents Guide to Math and Science we distill what children need to know at each age, from pre-k through 5th grade, and give you tips to help further science at home. For little kids, it boils down to nurturing interest. Science is everywhere: in the cooking we do, on the walks we take, in the eating habits of a pet.
Now that you are home with your young child, do like my mom: Point and name. Ask questions. Search for answers. You never know; when your child is an adult, she may be like me, able to name each plant and flowering tree, bringing a sense of joy, memory and connection to the earth, on a socially distanced morning walk.