A Seed Is Sleepy
“A seed is inventive. To find a place to grow, a seed might leap from its pod, or cling to a child’s shoestring, or tumble through a bear’s belly. A seed hopes to land where there is plenty of sunlight, soil, and water.”
A Seed Is Sleepy, written by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long, is a treasure of mine that never stops giving. This book is a celebration of the variety and wonder of seeds that is brimming with so many possibilities for children’s brains and hearts. I find it is impossible to leave it alone after only one reading because there are so many layers of goodness to unfold. The rich language, accurate yet elegant drawings, and bite-size information that sparks youthful questions and amazement inspire lessons in language, art and science.
I love a book that can connect young children to nature in so many ways!
Lessons Abound! Begin With a Book
It is always a good idea to connect children to actual objects before using pictures or words. The sensory experiences offer more pathways of information to their brains. Have real seeds available for exploring, magnifying, scooping, eating, sorting, grinding, tweezing, matching, and grading. Then they can see, taste, smell, touch, and hear the seeds.
For the first reading, and with young children especially, just read the one large and simple sentence per page. It is enough, and they can notice the illustrations better with less said. What has worked well for me, is to return to a particular page on a different day, and develop that one idea about seeds in depth. In the meantime, use the poetic text as a bridge to reading skills.
Lesson 1: Language
While science lessons may be the most obvious reason for reading this book about seeds, I find that the language possibilities are just as strong. This book will suggest activities to you that support visual and phonemic discrimination, vocabulary acquisition, descriptive word choices, and innovations. These are a few that I have tried:
Match Visual Details. Make two color copies of each of the endpapers of the book. One is seeds, the other is the corresponding plants. Laminate before using.
- For pre-readers who are learning to distinguish their letters, cut out each of the seeds (including the words) of one of the copies and laminate them. Show your child how to find the matches one at a time and place them onto the uncut copy. You could do the exact same activity with the plant illustrations.
- For readers, show them how to read the name of the seed and match it to the correct plant that you have cut out and glued to cards. I would begin with the most common ten seeds: Corn, bean, rice, pumpkin, sunflower, strawberry, Japanese maple, blueberry, violet, and dandelion.
Phonemic Awareness. A listening skill that is critical for reading.
- Preferably with real seeds, play I Spy. With familiar and commonly found seeds like corn, bean, pumpkin, and apple in front of them, the children can be asked, “I spy, with my little eye, a seed whose name begins/ends/rhymes with ________.
- Give a timely “ee” word family lesson. Begin with seed, of course!
- Teach the names of the seeds and/or the plants. Select two or three at a time to work on. In Montessori classrooms, we teach vocabulary with a Three Period Lesson, which is a tried and true technique.
- There are high value words in the featured simple sentence on each page: sleepy, secretive, fruitful, naked, adventurous, inventive, generous, ancient, thirsty, hungry, awake. Be sure your students are familiar with the meanings. Use synonyms, antonyms, act them out, play fill in the blank games, bingo, and try to find ways to use them in every day conversations. (Yes, even “naked”).
- Young children love to learn new words; the more challenging the better!
- Even children who cannot read yet, can play games that introduce them to the different functions of words.
- Lay out a wide variety of seeds. Say you are thinking of a particular one. Ask one of the children to give it to you. Of course they have no idea which one you want because they need a clue (adjective). Say, “I want the white seed.” Maybe there is more than one white seed, so you need to use a second adjective. “The small white seed.” Continue to play until every child has been able to give you the seed you want because you used a good describing word. The next time, let the children think of the clues, and you guess.
- On another day, ask each child to find an object (that will fit in one hand) in the room and use three adjectives to describe it. They can write their adjectives down. They place their objects on the rug or table to make it easier, and take turns reading their three adjectives to see if the other children can figure out which object they are describing. For instance, long, yellow, pointy = pencil. The next time, make it more challenging by not bringing the actual objects.
- Introduce a graphic organizer to show all of the adjectives used in the book to describe seeds. On another day, ask the children to help you make another one about a different topic.
- Imagine you are seeds. Together think of a story about the seeds journey, and include rich, sensory words in every sentence.
- Illustrate the various sentences and make a book.
- There is a great Raffi song called, “In My Garden” that would be perfect to learn.
Lesson 2: Science
A Seed Is Sleepy is simply a springboard for science activities. There are too many seed ideas to even count, let alone list, but I suggest that you keep the momentum going for as long as possible. Once the children get the basic idea of the scientific method, there should always be an ongoing seed experiment for them to observe. Always!
Experiment. On the day that you first read the book to the class, plant some lima bean seeds together in a large pot. Save plenty of seeds for your individual experiments. I recommend doing a different one per day for an entire week. Try these:
- Plant seeds in soil with water and sunlight.
- Plant seeds in soil with water but placed in the dark.
- Plant seeds in soil and sunlight but without water.
- Plant seeds in cotton, water and, sunlight.
- Plant seeds in water, placed in sunlight.
- My favorite one for after a bean seed has sprouted, is: “Will a bean plant travel a maze to reach sunlight?” Build a cardboard maze in a box about 18″ x 24″. The plant navigates back and forth toward a 1 inch hole at the top. The day it pokes through is so fun!
Label them carefully, record your hypothesis, and record your observations. Write your conclusions, or what you learned and think of new variables to change.
- While you wait for 10 days or so for them to germinate, you can be working on the language activities above, focusing on one page in the book at a time, and appreciating the beauty and wonder of seeds through eating and art! Eat popcorn, string and chop string beans, feed birds, crack seeds and look inside.
- Learn the parts of a seed and the parts of a plant that we eat. Seeds, roots, stems, leaves, flowers, and fruits.
Go Outside. Just one idea is to walk across a field with a gym sock on over your shoe. See if any seeds travel back to school with you, and talk about other ways seeds can travel.
“… in a world that often makes no sense at all, nature does. There is a perfect order and incomparable beauty in nature that’s soul-soothing. Nature is our most benevolent, welcoming, inspiring teacher.” Dianna Hutts Aston, author of A Seed Is Sleepy
All of these books by the tandem of Aston and Long are wonderful, but I especially loved finding a passionate and artful book about rocks!