Start by having your child decide whether to "plant" flowers in the sun or the shade for the summer or the spring. Then drag flowers into the window box. The flowers might not go exactly where you click, so that they will all have some space between them to "grow."
Observe whether your child does any of the following:
Ask your child what he likes about the flowers he uses. If he can answer this question, he will probably be able to tell you what he is thinking about as he makes his decisions. Support thinking about thinking.
As you and your child plant the Window Boxes, talk aloud about the decisions you are making. For example, you might say, "I love purple; I only want to use purple flowers," or "This one is tall; I will put it behind the shorter ones so we can still see them both."
You may want to ask a younger child how she thinks the window box will look with the same plants in a different arrangement or with different plants altogether. Try it and talk about the differences you notice together. Which do you each like better? Why?
Challenge your older child to think about how the window box looks from the other side of the window. You could help a younger child plant the box from the opposite orientation (imagining the view from inside the window).
This activity taps two important processes that stimulate creativity:
Systems thinking means considering several factors when making choices. It is a crucial skill for all kinds of design tasks. Preschool children can usually do systems thinking. For example, most five-year-olds can choose clothes based on at least two factors (such as how warm or cold they expect the day to be and what they are planning to do). The Window Boxes activity offers choices of plants based on your child's selection of season and of light exposure.
The flowers in this game are labeled based on the real flowers that inspired them. They were selected because in most of America, these flowers really will bloom in the chosen season and thrive in the chosen light exposure. This game, however, is only a model. Like most models, it is simpler than the real thing. For example, it ignores many other considerations that would be important in planting a real window box (soil pH, native or non-native, amount of water needed, symbiosis or competition between plants, etc.). You could compare this kind of simplifying to the way you might give a sensitive child only tag-free, soft, non-itchy clothes from which to choose daily outfits.
Your creative thinking can benefit greatly from the thoughtful use of models. Examine which ideas and assumptions about the way things work are included in the model. Will the model serve your purposes or would you make a new one?
Nature provides endless examples of systems in action. It is also in connecting with nature that many people form their aesthetic sensibilities and grow their appreciation for life in the world around them. Expand such connections with the activities below.
Plant some real flowers or make a real window box.
Arrange a Bouquet. Concentrate on the beauty and aroma of the flowers and plants.
Conduct a Garden Watch. Did you see any butterflies or other wildlife?
Go on Safari! Decide what you will look for and go for a walk, or even a crawl!
Visit the botanical or public garden nearest to your home or take a trip if you can!
Remember: Use your own creativity to generate ideas that inspire you and your child! To see an age-by-age breakdown of what your child might be ready for, check out the PBS Parents Child Development Tracker.
Test your green thumb by growing a Groovy Garden at Arthur.
Encourage older children to play the Dragonfly TV game Weebits for more complicated systems thinking.
Consider how the different plants around the world have supported the lives of different peoples at the beautiful Plant Cultures Web site.
Look at the picture book, Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert (ages 1 to 4).
Read the nonfiction book, The Reason for Flower, by Ruth Heller, to learn how plants reproduce even without a gardener (ages 4 to 8).
Eric Carle's book The Tiny Seed illustrates how many conditions have to be just right for successful germination (ages 4 to 8).
Enjoy the family activities provided in Sharing Nature with Children: The Classic Parents' and Teachers' Nature Awareness Guidebook by Joseph Cornell (ages 4 to 8).
Check out the great ideas and activities in Earth Child 2000: Earth Science for Young Children—Games, Stories, Activities and Experiments by Kathryn Sheehan and Mary Waidner, PhD. (ages 4 to 8).