Over this past summer our garden thrived. The standout plant was our massive sunflower. It was such a joy to watch it grow. When it came time to harvest, it was a great opportunity for some hands on learning!
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Many failed attempts.

I’ve tried to garden in the past. Many times. I hadn’t been successful since our prolific garden at our home back in Iowa. But this year, I finally got it right. The timing, the plant placement, and the watering schedule. Heirloom plants of all kind thrived: kale, spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, snap peas, and a variety of herbs. The broccoli grew massive but never produced. A luffa plant took over everything. Without a doubt though, the stand out plants this year were our sunflowers. I had ordered the Russian Mammoth seeds from Seed Savers Exchange, in hopes of growing ridiculously huge plants. They didn’t disappoint. 

A slow start.

I planted our sunflowers in one afternoon. A flurry of motivation to get my hands dirty and grow something beautiful. It was a while before they sprouted and we all feared they weren’t going to grow. But that’s the thing about gardening: it’s an excellent life lesson in patience. We spent time reading We Are The Gardeners; over and over, trying to grasp at the lesson we were learning. The soil was perfect, and all the sunlight was there. We watered carefully. We just needed to wait. 

The Mammoths appear. 

Within weeks, so it seemed, the sunflowers took off. We had so much fun walking in our small garden in the mornings, observing the new bugs that had moved in and measuring ourselves against the height of the plants. Our garden brought us immense joy all through the growing season. Living where we do, the growing season is broken into two by the dead heat of July and August. Not much can keep growing through the heat. Our sunflowers drooped sad and began to dry out, going to seed and eventually dying. But, that’s the amazing part of growing your garden: even in dying the plants keep on giving! I had planned to harvest the seeds and decided to make it an exploratory lesson in botany in honor of our first day of (home) school. 

The prepwork.

For this hands on learning session, there was not much additional prepwork that I needed to do. The sunflowers were mostly dry, I had cut the flower heads down the week prior and laid them in our garage to dry a bit more. I gathered the books we had been reading over the summer, and added a few more to enliven our experience. I laid the literal and figurative feast on our table, popcorn to harvest and eat, sunflowers full with seeds of all sizes, great books with beautiful illustrations, a tray for each child to dig into the sunflowers how they wanted, a few small tools and small knives.  Then I invited them to the table and magic morning began.

No rules.

This lesson plan had no plan. No rules. No tasks I was trying to accomplish or bullet points to check off. It was pure magic of discovery. A morning of infusing enchantment, inspired by Julie Bogart.  Their little hands dug into the sunflowers, exploring what was left of the petals, cutting off the stems, and peeling back the layers. I read aloud from some of our favorite gardening stories, often interrupted by shouts of discovery. “Mom! Look at this, it’s soft! Mom! Look at this it’s spongy! Mom! Look I got the seeds!” I have often found that these hands on, free range lessons have the most impact, stoaking their imagination and desire for learning. And it’s these moments that I’ll look back on fondly when I remember our homeschooling years. Yes, we do worksheets. Yes, we do notebooking. Yes, I keep records. But the magic infused by taking time aside from the school “work” to dive deep into curiosity is priceless. 

Don’t forget the snacks. 

I grew corn this past year and my Iowan roots were quite proud. It was not alot of corn, but it was just enough Strawberry Popcorn from Seed Savers that we were able to harvest the kernals and make a little snack during our learning. My kids helped me pick each jewel tone kernal off the cob, then we watched (and listened) anxiously while it popped on the stove. A little popcorn cheers and then it was back to the sunflower seed extracting. 

How to explore sunflowers with your family. 

This “sunflower study” could be easily adapted for any situation: classroom or homeschool, daycare or just some fun at home! If you don’t have a home garden, never fear! Here are a few tips to help you:

  • Find someone who has a garden and ask if they will be keeping the seeds, if they’re not – ask if you can have the sunflowers once they go to seed. 
  • If they are keeping the seeds, offer to remove the seeds for them! You and your kids will have so much fun and you will help out a fellow gardener or farmer. 
  • Any size sunflower will work, but the larger the better. 
  • Clear your kitchen table, or use a hard surface floor. Lay down a shower curtain or plastic to help gather the mess afterwards. 
  • Give each child a baking tray to explore their sunflowers with. 
  • Give them a few tools to explore! A beginner dissecting kit works great. 
  • Read some fun gardening picture books while they explore. 
  • If you’re following Ambleside Online this next year, sunflower dissection is a great way to kick off your nature studies of cultivated crops! 
  • Remember to save the seeds so you can roast them and have a delicious treat from all of your hard work. 

Not all learning requires worksheets and guided studies.

As you move through your school year, however you school, remember that not all learning needs to be measured. Sometimes it happens outside of worksheets and planned lessons. Sometimes it’s spontaneous and sometimes it is half baked plans that turn into something wonderful. So this year, leave a little room for the wonderful.


Here’s to a great school year.

Here we are again, at the beginning of another year. Fresh plans, fresh goals, fresh hopes. My hope for you, my friend, is a year filled with joyous discovery and fueled by curiousity. If you do some sunflower dissection, I’d love to hear about it! Tag me in your posts on social media with “coleyraeh” on Instagram  or Pinterest and “Luckey Wander” on Facebook!

Thank you.

 Thank you for following along! If you enjoyed this story about how we infuse enchantment into our learning, you might enjoy reading about our most recent study using Beautiful Feet Books! A study through story that led us down the Santa Fe trail. Read about that adventure here.

Thanks for joining us on this learning adventure! I hope that it inspires you to set aside the worksheets and plans and dive into some enchanted learning experiences.