Visit the Frye on the first Friday of the month and you will find nearly 100 preschool children, parents, and caregivers singing and marching their way through the galleries. What’s the excitement? They’re learning to grow seeds, of course! The Seattle Children’s Theatre (SCT) is reading “And Then It’s Spring” by Julie Fogliano, all while directing a play with a cast composed of 2-, 3-, and 4-year-olds. For a moment, the children suspend their disbelief. They “plant” their seeds into the hardwood floors of the galleries, and then anxiously wait for their sunflowers to grow. “But what conditions transform seeds into plants?” the facilitator asks. “We need the seeds to be real,” a pragmatic child proclaims. “The seeds need sun,” another shouts out. The educators from SCT, in turn, explain photosynthesis. Then the children stretch out our arms in an attempt to mimic the sun’s rays. “What else do seeds need to grow?” “Rain!” This suggestion prompts 60 kids (and some adults!) to flutter their fingers and arms to resemble rainfall. Still no sunflowers. This is when the key lesson from “And Then It’s Spring” becomes apparent. We need to be patient — a hard lesson to learn for a 4-year-old. But we wait. And we wait. And then we wait some more. All of a sudden, a field of sunflowers (which look suspiciously like preschoolers!) begins to sway in the wind.
With our rehearsal behind us, we trek up to the Art Studio of the museum. Now we will design a garden through the visual arts. A hole-puncher sows our seeds and torn paper acts as a flower bed. We recall our raindrop-like arm movements from the galleries and use a similar gesture to sketch out water. Our sun is bright — golden circles glued down high above the ground, with orange and yellow shapes acting as rays. Now that we have everything we need for our garden — sun, water, soil, and seeds — it’s time to grow our plants. Some children have gardens at home and draw the plants they’ve seen in their backyards (mostly tomatoes), while others have a more diverse taste in veggies: bok choi, okra and taro.
The science of gardening is not new curriculum in early childhood learning. What’s unique is Small Frye’s approach to teaching these concepts. STEM information is presented and then reinforced using multiple artistic disciplines. Through literature, theater, and the visual arts, preschoolers hone their understanding of STEM concepts — all while growing a beautiful garden with friends!