A nature notebook that kids can fill with pressed or preserved plants, drawings, creative writing, or photos can be a central focus for learning. You may also employ traditional crafts outside the confines of a notebook.
Making pressings is among the best ways to preserve plants. Put the leaves, stems, or flowersóany thin plant partsóbetween the pages of a book. Donít use thick plant partsóthey may rot or get moldy before they have a chance to dry. Include a label, so you wonít forget what youíve pressed. Then close the book and leave it under a weight for a couple of weeks. The water in the leaves evaporates through the porous paper, and the plant flattens and dries. This produces good pressings, although chemicals in the paper, especially if it contains sulfur, may discolor the plants. The worst thing to use is the Yellow Pages, which are colored with sulfur. An inexpensive plant press, available over the web or by mail from biological supply houses, uses blotting paper tightly strapped between wooden slabs to produce professional-quality pressings.
Use a clear-drying glue stick to mount the pressed leaves on white or colored heavy paper. Create a display of many plants, or include pressings of various seasonal aspects of the same plant on the same sheet. Or you can mount related plants together. I had such pressings framed and mounted on my walls, and they looked great.
You can create a set of plant cards, each with one plant, flower, or other plant part. Add numbers and suits, and use them as playing cards; or use them as plant postcards, which children can mail (or e-mail if you have a digital camera or scanner) to friends and relatives.
Label the plants in the display. Include any other written material, photos, or other plant parts (such as dried seeds or pods) that you want, and cover with transparent contact paper. Iíve learned the hard way that pressings are too delicate to leave unprotected for long. Once when I wasnít home the hose on my dishwasherís disconnected itself, and hot water went gushing into the sink. The kitchen flooded, the downstairs neighbors had a fit, and my apartment filled with steam. All my dried pressed plants rehydrated, peeled from their mountings, discolored, and rotted.
You can also glue thin plants or plant parts onto heavy paper and cover them with contact paper without pressing them first. Trace the shape of the mounting paper or card onto the contact paperís backing and cut it out first. When you peel off the backing, youíll have a perfect fit.
Or you can preserve plants or plant parts between two sheets of wax paper. First sandwich the plant between wax paper sheets, and then sandwich the whole thing between a few sheets of newspaper. Heat with an iron until the wax paper starts to melt. You can cut away the excess wax paper and hang the plants, flowers, or leaves decoratively. You may use stiff wire to make mobiles. Or make necklaces or pendants with the cut-outs. Glue them to lampshades, windows, lunch boxes, pencil holders, or other containers.
You can take rubbings of leaves, thin plants or plant parts, and tree bark. Take off the paper thatís around a crayon, put a piece of paper over the leaf or tree bark, and rub the crayon, sideways, on the paper. This is easy, even for young children. Donít use thick paper or the plant material wonít show through. Rubbings from trees with smooth bark work better than those with rough bark.
You can also use spray paint to create impressions on paper of leaves and other flat plants or parts of plants. Arrange them artistically or group them botanically on the paper, then spray. This creates a splatter print. You may also dip an old toothbrush in paint or ink, and rub the bristles with your fingers or a comb, aiming the spray at the leaves on the paper. This can be messy, but it also produces beautiful silhouettes once the children gain skill at aiming the spray.
Potpourri is an easy-to-make mixture of dried fragrant leaves, dried flower petals, citrus rind, spices, essential oil, and fixative. Itís the original air freshener, used since ancient times, and itís becoming popular again. You can use wild plants youíve collected for some of the ingredients, and you can buy ingredients.
It makes a great gift, and itís practical. Use it to freshen up air-tight offices, bathrooms, musty basements, stuffy cars, smelly locker rooms or asceptic sick rooms. People used to strew or toss potpourri onto the floor for special occasions. Scatter it at birthday parties, graduations, or weddings.
Potpourri is an easy-to-make mixture of dried fragrant leaves, dried flower petals, citrus rind, spices, essential oil, and fixative. Itís the original air freshener, used since ancient times, and itís becoming popular again. You can use wild plants youíve collected for some of the ingredients and mix them with other ingredients that you can buy. It makes a great gift, and itís practical. Use it to freshen up air-tight offices, bathrooms, musty basements, stuffy cars, or even smelly locker rooms. People used to strew or toss potpourri onto the floor for special occasions. Scatter it at birthday parties, graduations, or weddings.
Traditional potpourri uses seven parts leaves to one part flower petals, but you can vary the proportions to suit your taste. Mix about 2 cups of dried leaves (any that smell good to you) with 1/4 cup dried flowers and about 1 teaspoon of powdered spices. These may include cinnamon, cloves, juniper berries, star anise, nutmeg, or even pieces of pine cone. Add 1 tablespoon of orris root (dried iris root) as a fixative, plus 2-3 drops of essential oil. Mix it together and use as needed. This dried potpourri lasts for months. You may also moisten it with a little brandy, rose-water, or orange water, to make a moist potpourri. Cover this when youíre not using it, and re-moisten it periodically.
The hard parts of plants can last indefinitely if theyíre kept dry. These include twigs, pods, seeds, cones, and buds. Theyíre great for collecting, learning, and creating displays. For example, children can display one plant in as many of its aspects as possible. Create displays of pressings, hard plant parts, drawings, photos, or writing.
A child can adopt a treeólearn itís name, discover its identifying characteristics, enjoy its edible parts, and follow its progress throughout the year. You can write about the tree and photograph it, make a rubbing of its bark, display pressings and rubbings of its leaves, display the seeds in a clear pill container, and mount and display the winter twigs.
These organized botanical displays are great for science fairs, especially if different students or groups of students work on different species. If the species all come from a specific local ecosystem or preserve, and the display is accompanied by information about the history of the ecosystem and habitat, the exhibit becomes even more meaningful. A group of inner-city teenagers I worked with followed this plan and won first prize in their science fair.