Snowdrops, daffodils, and writing projects for kids who hate writing projects

Looking for signs of spring

Snow is falling in little flurries outside my house right now. It’s so cold that when I went running I didn’t sweat, although I did stop shivering. We’re hoping for a real snow storm here in Western Washington, me as much as anyone. And yet there are already so many signs of spring: swollen buds on the hydrangea, snowdrops blooming by the chicken coop, flocks of robins and starlings, daylight after 5PM. I’m cheering spring on, as hard as I can. I’m hoping it’s snow this weekend and then spring all the way. The fantasies I’m having about barefoot picnics on blankets under shady trees….

Looking for signs of spring:

I love looking for signs of spring with kids. I love celebrating the first day the sunlight warms our faces and the first day the soil warms our feet. I love watching daffodils come up gradually — first the green spears, then the hint of buds, then a flash of yellow and then, POW! Flowers! — and I love the sudden surprises, subtle stories that go unnoticed until their punch line, a camellia out of nowhere in full bloom.

Children learn what is considered important from watching where adults give their attention. If we want them to care about the earth, we need to show them it’s important. We need to notice it.

Looking for signs of spring is also an exercise in noticing and articulating details, learning to really see and to name what we see. This is good practice for writing, and I think for living.

Writing for non-writers:

Also, if my earnestness here has not convinced you, this is an example of using children’s other interests to spur writing. Some children, like some adults, just aren’t that into writing and may never be. However, kids who are uninterested in writing still need to be proficient writers, because many pursuits involve writing. Luckily, we can flip that sentence on its head: Because many pursuits involve writing, kids who are uninterested in writing can still become proficient writers — while still powered by their own interests. Writing doesn’t have to be about writerly things, after all. Writing about history or sports or The Mandalorian is still writing. Math word problems are writing. Song lyrics are writing. Scientific notes are writing. Keeping track of signs of spring is writing.

Ways to look:

So go outside with your kids, in your yard or on a walk. Notice signs of spring. A crocus? A neighbor in shorts? Flirtatious squirrels? An excitement in your blood? A budding tree? What do you have names for? What do you need to learn? Take what you’re noticing and put it to use:

  • Stealth version: Nonchalantly point out what you notice. Help your children learn to pay attention to the wonder unfolding in the dirt at their feet.

  • Poem version: take notes on all the signs of spring you see, then go home and write a poem using your observations.

  • Scientific version: have your child (or whole family) keep a signs of spring record. Add to it over the next few months, charting the arc of the season.

  • Climate data version: make the record a yearly tradition. Notice any changes in when you see what different spring signs, any new species, any species lost.

  • Map version: make a map of everything you notice. Overlay another map with observations from next week and next month, either written on tissue paper, or added in a new color.

  • Art version: draw or paint something you are noticing.