Foraging is one of the best ways to get children involved with nature and science. People have gathered wild foods for as long as they've inhabited the earth. Compared to foraging, agriculture is a comparatively recent technology, and of course processed food is even newer. Curiosity about our surroundings has always been crucial to our survival, and children retain this inborn trait until culture intercedes. Itís becoming increasingly obvious that too much of academic learning and emphasis on standardized tests today is cutting off from experience, but we can still re-awaken our heritage, in our children and ourselves, through hands-on encounters with renewable wild food resources.
Children are enthusiastic collectors. When they come on my field trips they proudly show me bags full of plants, proclaiming: ?Look how many wild onions I got,? I'd rather they were saying: ?Look how much I learned.? Still, they do learn, especially when theyíre having fun.
Of course, since the kidsí primary motive is usually collecting, adults must emphasize the names and characteristics of plants. Kids learn to recognize plants readily, but forget the features and names unless prompted. They often make up their own plant names, making communication confusing. Children like repetition, so having everyone repeat the plantsí names in unison helps them recognize the plants and remember their names.
Since the kidsí primary motive is usually collecting, adults have to emphasize the names and characteristics of the plants the kids are learning. Kids learn to recognize plants readily, but forget their features and names without a lot of prompting. They often make up their own plant names, and that makes communication confusing. Children like repetition, so having everyone repeat the plantsí names in unison helps them recognize the plants and remember their names.
Competition also helps. Have a contest to see who can remember the most plant names, or who's the first to rediscover and name a previously-encountered plant . And at the end of the session, hold up the plants one by one and see how many the kids remember them. Have them recount what they have been told about food uses, games, stories, or craft possibilities.
Start off close to home or school. Examine wild plants that are nearby and note their identifying characteristics. Observe and record how the plants change over time. Compare your finds with those species of plants that are known to grow in the same habitat, and see which ones match. Many wild plants youíll find aren't listed in this book, so donít get discouraged if you canít match any right away. Just keep observing, collecting, and learning. As you become more experienced with studying wild plants, youíll begin making I.D.ís more often. Adults and kids can learn something new together every day. Maybe the kids will even identify a new plant first. Everyone will benefit over time by developing observation skills, patience and persistence.
Always verify the plantís identity with 100% certainty before you eat it. Some wild plants are poisonous. If youíre not completely sure about a plant, observe it longer or consult an expert. Kids appreciate adults who donít act like know-it-alls.
Later on, explore new places. Prepare beforehand by checking this book for plants you may encounter. Let the kids share in decision-making. The more responsibility you give them, the more responsible theyíll become. And the reward of making hard-earned discoveries provides motivation.
Children today, reflecting society in general, are too age-segregated and competitive. If possible, create age-mixed groups. Younger kids tend to look up to older kids. And older children often enjoy playing the role of teacher. Group projects or science fairs, with everyone engaged in challenging tasks within the range of their abilities, can be exciting for everyone. See what ideas and projects the kids can come up with as they gain experience studying plants, hunting for wild foods, and cooperating with each other.
If youíre knowledgeable about science, see which scientific principals apply to the discoveries the children are making, and enlarge on the science tie-ins interspersed in the text. Above all, have fun using this book. Enthusiasm is contagious, and the example you set is as important as the information itself.