There is nothing quite like collecting flower petals and leaves for an art project to engage children in exploring the garden. While at other times you may tell them, “Don’t walk there” or “Don’t pull that” here you give them the go-ahead to feel, pick, tear, and generally pull apart. It is marvelous, really. They get caught up in the magic of textures and colors, what the insides of flowers look like, and, yes, what bugs are buzzing all over the flowers.
It can be helpful to have a few guidelines, so that the children are not just ripping up whole plants willy-nilly or collecting millions more petals than you need. But these guidelines can also be used as a way for you to interact with the child in their exploration, to see things through their eyes, as well as suggest options to them.
1. First, give them an idea of the end project. They will get to arrange their choice of petals and leaves into any design or picture they want. It might be helpful if they know the size of the area they will be working on. (See list of supplies below) This should inspire them to look at the flowers and petals with a new degree of interest.
2. Tell them to go around and gently feel and look at the shapes and colors of many flowers first, before asking to collect any.
3. Suggest they look for variety, so there can be more options when putting their pictures together. This makes it even more of a treasure hunt.
4. Buddy up older children with younger ones, if necessary, not only to keep track of younger ones, but to allow for safe collection when using clippers or dealing with insects.
5. When you are ready for petal and leaf collecting, remind them that gentleness will preserve their petals for satisfactory pressing.
6. Give them each a container. Something as simple as an empty, washed 32 ounce yogurt container will do, although the plastic 1 gallon ice cream buckets with handles are ideal. A soft sided container tends to lead to more damage of the petals.
7. Advise that picking a few whole flowers, then saving dissection for in the house and out of the wind, will be less frustrating. They will probably be able to go out for more flowers, if desired.
8. Warn them that not all flowers will press with equal ease, but they can experiment with the ones they are interested in.
9. Although they don’t want to waste flowers, they might want more petals than they think they might need, to allow them extras for creativity, and in case there is a learning curve with learning to glue them without destroying them.
As for your preparation, you will probably want to have a few things located and ready.
1. Since the dissection and pulling apart is best done soon after collection, within a couple of hours, have some stations at the table with
- A large piece of white paper
- Older children might find a knife useful, especially when they want to make a clean cut through the center of a flower to see all that is going on in there.
- A separate container for each child to keep the flower parts they are saving for pressing
2. Several large, heavy books. This is what I have used my nursing text books the most for over the last 20 years!
3. A stack of white printing paper, such as is used for your printer attached to your computer.
4. Pens or pencils for labeling the paper that the petals will be pressed between, if anyone wants to keep track of that.
5. Sooner or later, you will want inexpensive picture frames.
6. Water color paper, or some other relatively sturdy art board or paper that can be cut to size to fit in the picture frame.
7. And glue (we used regular Elmer’s), but not until the flower petals have dried.
8. Popsicle sticks work pretty well for spreading the glue on the art board or stiff paper.
Once all the petals are collected, the children can help you arrange them in a variety of ways:
- In single layers
- With space in between each petal
- Between sheets of paper in the heavy books
Try to keep flower petals of similar thickness in the same groups. You can use several different places in the same book, just make sure it will still close flat. And make sure there will be enough pages on the top of any group of petals to weight them down. Then, find an out of the way place to let them all sit.
One of the nice things about this project is that it is not terribly time dependent from here on out. If you forget about the petals until fall, you will just have a surprise project. But for the sake of the expectations of the children, you might want to leave yourself a note to check the drying progress now and then. How long it takes will depend on the weather and humidity. A couple of weeks may be all it takes.
When the petals are dry, everyone gets to make a picture. Before gluing, each child should be encouraged to try out different arrangements of petals before gluing. In this age of digital photography, they might even want to take a photo of it arranged before they begin gluing.
Gluing is easiest if the glue is spread very light and thin on the art paper in the basic area where the petal will be, then the flower petal place gently over the top of it. It does not have to be glued all the way to the edges. The glass from the picture frame will hold the edges in place.
When we made flower petal pictures almost 20 years ago, the children designed everything from ladies dressed in ball gowns to caterpillars being eaten by large birds. I made a picture of a fuzzy duckling to go in my bathroom that is decorated with ducks. The other pictures got hung in the laundry room and bedrooms. The petals have lost some of their color finally, mostly all fading to a yellowish hue now, but they still bring back fond memories and I can still see the original purple ball gown or orange caterpillar in my mind when I look at them. I am making plans to do the same project with the grandkids.