Our family is living in Maine for the summer, and we spend a good part of that time hiking in the woods. As we scramble along the trails, the kids are constantly asking questions. What is this flower called? Why is this tree so sticky? Can I eat this berry? How did the moss get to be so soft? How I wish I knew more of the answers!
To help us all feel more at home in these woods we love, we’ve devised a new summer project. Every time we go on a walk or a wander in the woods, we take along a paper bag in which to collect leaves, small branches, flowers, shoots of moss or lichen, and other botanical bits and pieces. At home, we have a few references handy to help us figure out what plant is what. (This book is invaluable, and I’ve bookmarked this website too.) Once we’ve read up on our finds, the kids affix each specimen to a piece of card stock, and write its name at the bottom. We then leave the cards under a big pile of books in order to flatten everything out. At the end of the summer, the last step will be to punch holes in the cards and put them in a small binder or maybe just tie them together with ribbon. I’m hoping this will make a nice memento and reference for future use.
The main point of this exercise is not to give our kids more summer work (they have enough reading and math from their teachers as it is!), but to get us all talking about the plants and trees around us. Sometimes we’ll bring our favorite plant guide along with us, and play games to see who can find the first White Pine of the walk and then whether anyone can spot a Pitch Pine (usually as we go up in elevation). Finally, everyone in our family is clear about the difference between a fir, a spruce, a pine and a cedar tree. Hear, hear for summer learning!
In the end, we hope our children will feel as much at home in these woods and meadows as they do in their very own cozy rooms. That means not just knowing the names of the plants and trees, but being familiar with their textures, their smells, and the sounds they make in the wind. It means knowing that blueberries and huckleberries are delicious, but that red elderberries are inedible. It means feeling that the trees, flowers, bushes, shrubs and moss have a friendly aspect, and that you belong among them.
As children grow, they start to open their eyes to the larger world beyond their family and school. And when they do, it creates an opportunity for us to see things in a new way, too—to take a moment to think about all of those in our community ... read more
When children are very small they are rarely out of the sight of their parents or caregivers. When we think of their safety, it is usually in terms of car seats and choking hazards, steep stairs and too-tall play structures.When they turn the corne... read more