Observing Bulbs


We have made it a New Year’s tradition to force bulbs in our home. After the post Christmas clean-up, it is wonderful to be left with an assortment of bulbs and the anticipation of all the potential they hold. While the natural world outside our doors takes a peaceful rest, we are able to witness that life goes on and relish each step towards growth. Just having the bulbs out on display inspires natural observations, wonderings and investigations…

Last year the girls took photos every few days to document the growth of our Amaryllis bulb. They enjoyed putting the images together in a movie and were amazed at how the bulb changed over time.

This year I displayed the bulbs with no particular agenda in mind, although the girls have come up with their own. It has been fun to observe and discuss the questions that arise from simply watching the bulbs do their thing. Why is one stem growing more quickly than the others? Why are some roots longer than others? Why are the roots on the Amaryllis bulb thicker than the roots on the Paper Whites?

The fact that my oldest just finished a measurement unit in school prompted my youngest daughter (now six) to  investigate how long the roots and the stems were on each plant. She took it upon herself to take exact measurements and started to record her findings. As she figured out how to organize the information on her page she added labels so that she could decipher which measurements were for the roots and which ones were for the stems (I love that she included apostrophes—but that is another blog post). It was a great review for learning the parts of the plants. It was also great number writing practice for her (as she still reverses some of her numbers).

I did not interfere with her process and observed that over time, the way she recorded her observations become more organized. After she wrote down her first round of measurements, I did share with her that she could use the abbreviation (in. and cm.) after each number, because she was recording both measurements and has having a hard time knowing which one was which.



After the measurements were complete, she decided to create an observational drawing of her favorite bulb and made sure to include the lengths of both the stem and roots (see main photo). It will be interesting to see if she chooses to continue to measure and sketch the bulbs as they change over time.

What I love most about this experience is that the interest and initiation came from our daughter. I did not have to sit down and announce that we were going to “practice writing numbers” or “learn measurement” (which, by the way I have also been known to attempt). Simply having an interesting provocation (the bulbs) and the right tools at the right time (the prepared environment) I was able to take advantage of the teachable moment as it arose naturally—and that is what makes for a truly playful learning experience.