It all started with a little red berry. A little red berry and a toddler. I had taken my children to the park to play. My daughter, a toddler at the time, was roaming about the playground, just a few feet away, and then disappeared from my view around a corner.
I was after her immediately, only to find her in a clump of red berry bushes, saying “Eat. Eat.” Not knowing what they were or if she had managed to eat one or not, we grabbed a few twigs off the bush and loaded up in the car.
We stopped at my husband’s work, a mere 1/2 mile away where he went to the landscaping department with a twig to identify. I headed to the nearby City Hall and Library.
After phone calls with Poison Control and our pediatrician’s office as well as a visit to the City Parks Department, we determined that the plant was harmless and that she would be fine, whether or not she had consumed a berry.
Mother’s heart attack averted.
In the meantime, my teenage son was doing some research at the library. His topic?
Edible Wild Foliage
This little scavenging experience had prompted him to wonder whether or not there were plants outside of a vegetable garden that could be eaten safely. In fact, he discovered a whole world of information and experiences in the realm of wild, edible foliage.
What ensued was our family’s journey into following a child’s lead in education. I learned so much, directed by my son’s interests and his love of learning.
(Wow! Maybe this whole homeschooling experiment is working!)
Following Your Child’s Interests
Depending on the subject at hand, I recommend this as an enriching opportunity for the whole family. Consider these questions when assessing a subject to pursue:
- is it safe?
- does it fit your family’s mission?
- can it lead to further enriching study?
We established that hiking and discovering wild, edible foliage fit those three criteria. We knew that this was an established hobby based on the vast number of books on the subject. We knew that, as a family, we wanted to enjoy the great outdoors more, even though I am a total nature wimp. We knew that a study of botany would pay off both as an interest and as an academic pursuit.
So we set off on a journey. Here’s are three tips I learned along the way:
Jump in. Your kid’s interest in rockets, dinosaurs, or what plants you can eat along the trail may not be the same as yours. However, we want them to be lifelong learners. If they know we are willing to accompany them down the path, they are reassured of our support as well as our companionship.
Tell others. By sharing the news with others who care about your child and his education, he gains even more supporters. The grandparents have latched onto this activity with both hands, providing books and tools to further the investigation. Even my publisher got into the act by sending my son a cookbook on the topic, The Wild Vegan Cookbook by Steve Brill, a leading expert on edible wild foliage.
Provide opportunities. Since we want to keep this adventure safe and fun, my husband takes the kids hiking. While it involves a little amount of work in loading people up and arriving at the destination, my son appreciates the efforts and the whole family is involved.
Once you’ve determined a subject to pursue, you’re going to need to tool up. By providing books, equipment, and companionship, your child has what he needs to learn about his new hobby and explore his world, supported by you, his primary teachers.
You’d be surprised at how infectious this new interest can be. In our case, since I knew my son was open to eating new wild foods, I kept my eyes open to new cultivated foods, like cress, mustard greens, eggplant, and prickly pear. We’ve enjoyed foods that we wouldn’t otherwise have explored, thanks to this new interest, and even created some new recipes in the process.
What started as a toddler’s exploration of a park plant transformed into a teenager’s interests and hobbies and a complete botany study. It’s been a wild adventure, literally. Yet, it’s been full of laughter and learning. What more could I ask for?
How do you follow your child’s interests in learning?