There is nothing lovelier than being able to escape outside into the sunshine, especially if you have a lot of bright Little Sparks to keep entertained. Everybody enjoys the sense of freedom after long winters and rainy days.
I love the way that small children are magnetically drawn to dandelions – the walk to school takes forever because they have to stop and pick as many as they can, puffing furiously to send little seeds parachuting this way and that. Many, no doubt, finding a place to grow exactly where they are not wanted!
For most children, the dandelion is their first lesson in botany. As tough as old boots, its sunny presence never fails, and its ability to rapidly reproduce means that children get to witness and appreciate many plant life cycles throughout the summer. From pollen heavy flowers to fluffy seed-heads, the dandelion’s many stages intrigue and delight young children who do not share adult prejudices about weeds.
Another lovely activity with dandelions is to make curly stems – or scapes, to give them the proper name. These are leafless stems arising directly from the roots. Pop off the heads of the dandelions (when you’ve finished with blowing the seed everywhere) and gently prise the scapes open along the lengths with your finger nails. Drop them into a bowl of ice cold water and watch them curl and contort and wind themselves into tightly sprung coils. Children are absolutely fascinated by this, it is as if they are trying to turn themselves inside out. This seeming magic occurs because the inner surface of the scape absorbs the most water and expands at a greater rate than the outer surface layer forcing them to curl.
If you make little vertical snips all around one end you can make ‘curly heads’. This trick also works with spring onions (scallions) and chives - the scape in the middle of our image is a chive - use this technique to make fancy edible salad garnishes for an outdoor picnic!