Written by contributor Jessica Fisher of Life as Mom and Good Cheap Eats
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?
thanks Jessica, I totally let my children to be my teacher and I love it when they take me to wild adventures!!
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Thanks for encouraging people to be more aware of all the plants around us and whether or not they are safe.
When I had my first child, I started researching plant safety, and I was appalled at how many common decorative outdoor plants are poisonous. Now that I live on a farm and have to watch out more for the critters (my “kids” are all growing up!) I try to watch what I plant and what “weeds” pop up in our fields.
I have worked with the girls as part of their homeschool, to learn how to identify unknown plants and to learn the most common ones around. Part of the curriculum was whether the plant was poisonous or not. I used a combination of mini-hikes and photo id books, and taught the binomial taxonomic system.
The library has some great resources, and there are several good websites on line geared toward upper elementary and middle school that teach how to identify plants. If you go to your local state agricultural website, you can also find links and info on local plants and even free e-books on identifying the common plants/trees in your state. The 4-H also has lots of useful links and worksheets.
Since we’re unschoolers, our entire days a made up of following the kids’ interests! Sometimes it can be overwhelming as there is no such thing as “school hours” and the same learning that takes place at 10:00 in the morning takes place at 10:00 in the evening, too. But we love this lifestyle. I keep a notebook for each kid and throughout the day, I will write down questions they’ve asked, topics they’ve expressed an interest in, and places they’ve asked to go. Then I review the notebooks and look for books, games, travel opportunities and lots of other things to show them. Then we spend our days diving into whatever I or they have managed to dig up! I also spend a fair amount of time doing research and gathering together resources they haven’t expressed interest so far. They often get just as much excited about those resources or activities, too.
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Since my children were babies, we’ve had the center square of our parterre garden as the “safe zone” for toddler plant exploration. Everything was edible and had great texture. It quickly got them into the habit of paying attention to the world around them. Feeling, touching, tasting. They also knew right away that there were other things, like soap aloe, which were “just for the hummingbirds.” We need all kinds of plants around us because, although it might be yucky for a human, there is some other critter that it works for.
We’ve lost so much of what our grandparents knew as far as wild edibles and it is refreshing to see a resurgence of interest in this. The River Cottage Farm series from England also has wild edible info.
Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama
We are just starting our homeschooling journey with our kids, who are ages 3.5 and 2 now. This is something we plan to do this summer/fall — forage for wild edibles. They love to eat chives out of the garden (I know, not wild) and they’re very into farms. My daughter (3.5) has asked repeatedly to “walk among the trees” so we will be doing that. I love the idea of taking home fresh herbs or other edible plants! My kids have learned to identify many of the plants growing around our house, too, including ones that are poisonous (they know the difference between strawberries we grow and ‘poison strawberries,’ which are wild and not edible, and they will avoid the wild ones). It’s just cool to see what they can learn when you follow their lead!
My girls are 3 and although I had always planned to homeschool, I didn’t plan on beginning anything “formal” until they were about 5ish. But when my daughter, Serenity, looked at me three months ago and said “I want to do school Mommy” (she knows Mommy goes to work at school) I knew I couldn’t say no. Of course for that first lesson I pulled out some worksheets about colors and one about shapes. When I was done with the couple of pages I had picked out and a song or two I told the girls school was done. Serenity looked like she was going to cry and responded “No Mommy, what about the letters!” I assured her that the next school lesson would include letters, and we began our homeschool journey. Since then all of what we have done has been about what the girls are interested in. One of my favorite activities was visiting a butterfly preserve and then coming home from the library with lots of kiddie books about the butterfly life cycle. The extended family was floored that my 3 year olds can tell them about chrysalises!
renee @ FIMBY
Loved this Jessica on several fronts.
Love the outdoors. Love herbs & edibles and Love letting my children pursue their interests.
monica @ paper bridges
yeah! this is great! I love to see these non-traditional learning styles mentioned. thanks for the encouragement to keep doing as we do.