How Does Your Garden Grow: Linking Art and Science

by Judy Potter and Amy Betz

Want to link an art activity or project to what children are learning about plants in the science center? Teach about plants (names of plants, parts of plants, and what plants need to grow) through art. Introduce children to artwork by adult artists using plants as a subject. Such works might include Albrecht Durer's The Great Piece of Turf, Henri Rousseau's Surprise, Horse attacked by a Jaguar, The Dream, Jungle With a Lion, and other jungle scenes; Georgia O'Keefe's many paintings of plants; and Vincent van Gogh's Sunflowers and Irises.

Introduce children to museum software and look for favorite artists' work. Some dual platform CD-ROMs include: With Open Eyes (The Art Institute of Chicago), A is for Art, C is for Cezanne (Philadelphia Museum of Art), Museums of the World Vol. 1: The Louve (Voyager), and Look What I See (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Make science-related software available as a tool for further exploration and research. Try Forever Growing Garden (Media Vision), Let's Explore the Jungle: Junior Field Trip (Humongous and Random House), Travel the World with Timmy Deluxe (EDMARK), and Ozzie's World (Digital Impact).

Invite children to use all the visual arts (drawing, painting, printing-making, and three-dimensional activities) and to look closely at plants and flowers in their environment. Suggested art activities follow.

Drawing and Painting Activities
Draw plants from real life. Show children Georgia O'Keefe's artwork, then ask them to do up-close pastel drawings of flowers and plants, focusing on the internal parts of the flower (pistil, stamen). Suggest that the plant touch three sides of the paper. (This effectively enlarges the plant and produces interesting negative space). All shape areas can be filled in using pencil, crayon, marker, or craypas.

Use daily drawing to observe changes in plants growing in the discovery area of the classroom. Offer children small clipboards and drawing tools to sit by the discover table and do observational drawings.

Look at and draw a rubber tree plant in the classroom. Talk to the children about cross and alternate veination and how leaves, stems, branches, and limbs on trees are either a cross or alternately arranged. Ask children to draw the nearer leaves first and the ones they overlapped next--all the way to the other side of the plant. Heavily outline the closer leaves to make them seem to advance and gradate to light outlines on the leaves further back. (This needs to be drawn in one setting because plants move toward the sun.) If you want to paint with watercolors over this drawing you could just paint over drawing with the closer leaves darker and water down paint for receding leaves. You could also outline leaves, veins and stems with blue, green, and yellow crayons before you paint to create crayon resist.

Try drawing, painting, or stamp printing of plants at the computer center using children's graphic programs like Kid Pix (Broderbund), Crayola Make a Masterpiece (IBM) or Disney's Magic Artist (Disney). Children can choose to draw using the mouse or another device such as a switch, touch screen, draw pad, or alternative keyboard.

Bring a small twig with leaves or blossoms to the classroom. Hand out small magnifying glasses for looking at details. Each child can use pastel paper in shades of gray or beige, and draw the blossoms in detail with the pencil, then use one color of pastel as a very carefully applied accent on the blossoms.

If you and the children are looking at leafy green plants, discuss Henri Rousseau's work then have the class paint a rainforest or jungle scene, focusing on the plant life (studying the rainforest layers and animals are a great tie-in). Rousseau did fanciful jungle paintings. His inspiration came from zoos and botanical gardens. Invite children to draw real plants brought to the classroom. Bring at least five different kinds with different leaves and rotate them between the drawing tables so all children can have a chance to see and draw each type of plant. Children then can use their plant drawings as a resource to create a jungle painting of their own. Try crayon resist or colored pencils also, especially if you want children to get the details of the leaves. Read The Great Kapok Tree by Lynn Cherry, and draw children's attention to its awesome illustrations of rainforest plants and animals.

Bring in some white carnations or daffodils and show how they change color when put in colored water. Teach color at the same time. Follow with color mixing experiments using watered down tempera paints. As children mix red and yellow, they will discover orange; when they mix red and blue, they will soon be exclaiming; "Look, I found purple!" Many children's books are available about color mixing: Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni; Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh; Color Dance by Ann Jonas; and A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni.

Printing Activities
Create leaf rubbings and leaf prints. Children can place leaves under thin paper (newsprint works well) and rub with the side of a peeled crayon. These prints will show the vein patterns of individual species of leaves.

Try putting a white piece of cloth over a fresh green leaf and pounding it with a rubber mallet or hammer. You will get a print and learn about cholorphyl at the same time.

Collage Activities
Bring in a variety of plant seeds and invite children to make seed collages. Use very simple, basic and easily recognized shapes, such as kidney beans, various lentils (yellow ones are cool), white beans, and black-eyed peas. Children can glue their seeds to posterboard or cardboard.

Show examples of Roman and Greek mosaics and other ancient cultures. Do mosaics with seed collages. Focus on creating color and shape patterns.

Create a collage of flowers with the different parts of the flowers being made out of different materials, each part having its own material. Try using string, cloth, macaroni, screws and nuts or anything else you have on hand.

3-D Activities
Paper comes from a plant! Make paper as an art activity or make dyes out of plants.

Even with very young children, you can make two kinds of miniature gardens, Zen Gardens and Moribana Gardens. The Zen Garden is made with sand, in a baking pan or cookie sheet, that is combed (try using colorful, childrenžs paint scrapers) to look like ripples in the sea. Place or arrange small and large rocks in the sand. Moribana Gardens are like a miniature world, with little plants, pathways, figurines, bridges, pools, and so on. Children can create one of these in the sensory table and add items like toy vehicles and create roads. Both projects are listed in Mary Ann Kohl's Global Art.

Children can choose a favorite painting and then design a flower arrangement to "match" or enhance the painting. For example, after seeing a painting called Congo, which is very dark and "jungle-y," the children's flower arrangement might include very dark greens with some bright blossoms tucked deep in the greens and placed in a black pot.

Linking and integrating the arts with science helps children make connections between nature and art in their world. As they explore and revisit the familiar in their environment, children will be able to represent their new knowledge about plants through drawing, painting, print-making, and three-dimensional activities.

Art Reproduction Resources
Albrecht Durer's The Great Piece of Turf, one of many watercolors he did as detailed studies of the world he saw around him.
Rousseau's Surprise, Horse attacked by a Jaguar, The Dream, Jungle With a Lion, and other jungle scenes.
Georgia O'Keefe's many paintings of plants.
Vincent van Gogh's Sunflowers and Irises.

Web Site Resources
Jim's Fine Art Site-Alphabetical List of Artists:
Art History Resources-outline 20th century:
Modern Masterworks:
Mark Harden's Artchive and Art Resources Links:
Mary Ann Kohl publisher's website: Many projects from Kohl's book are available in the "free activities" area:

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