This hands-on environmental birthday party consists of a field walk in a local park focusing on common wild edible and medicinal plants. It puts children in touch with their environment and motivates them to learn science and practice conservation. It's also a lot of fun!
For children of all ages and backgrounds, the experience is tailored to the group's educational level and prior environmental experience.
There are many large natural areas throughout our region, and they present a wide range of ecosystems and species. Yet few of us are familiar with common wild plants, their identification, natural history, food and medicinal uses, or the folklore associated with them.
Because we live in an age when environmental issues are crucial, we must do more than provide our children with textbook information and TV animal shows if we expect them to understand and appreciate the natural world, and to play a responsible role in conservation.
We study wild plants from various perspectives. As the kids learn plant identification, we emphasize key characteristics, so everyone can recognize the various species.
I include botanical and ecological concepts, and use stories and humor to make the lessons come alive. Tales come from natural and human history, as well as from my personal experience. I also bring in ethnobotanyˇtraditions of plant use for food, medicine, and craftsˇas well as some of the ways folk wisdom complements science.
Related information from many areas of science is interwoven, and the children are encouraged to ask questions. Conservation is paramount. We distinguish between renewable and nonrenewable resources, and stress the importance of managing our planet wisely. Appreciation of nature, more than fear of environmental destruction, leads us to take conservation to heart.
Of course, I emphasize the poisonous nature of some species, and often point out that nobody should ever eat any wild plant without expert supervision.
I try with my questions to encourage the kids to become involved and to think for themselves. I also bring up my well-publicized history as an urban naturalist to project a positive role-model.
At the end of the tour, the parents may serve birthday cake picnic-style, and I play Happy Birthday on the Brillophone, an instrument all the children will be eager to learn to play.
Many well-informed young people watch nature shows on TV and are eager to learn more, but have no access to meaningful field experiences. We tell kids to say ŰnoÝ to drugs, while denying them an environmental alternative.
I've been trying fill this gap since 1982, and welcome every opportunity make a greater difference. My goals are still to provide the finest and most entertaining hands-on education possible, and to inspire people of all ages to learn about and care for their planet.