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Teaching kids ethnobotany in the 21st century.

 
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Hello folks. I wanna talk about ethnobotany for kids, using wild and cultivated plants for food, medicine, cordage and that sort of stuff to help them become self sufficient in these trying times ahead in this world. Since kids have difficulty identifying which plants are safe and which ones are not such as nightshade, poison Ivy, and many others. Safer ones to eat for them are blueberries, raspberries, apples, and others that we know from supermarkets and other common places. How can we teach our children the value of wild plants not only for eating and healing, but to build ropes, houses, clothes and stuff like that? Many of our kids are tied up to Nintendo games and so called cool sneakers these days, losing sight of what's more effective in their lives. We gotta do a better job of teaching our kids about daily life in the world and how to operate in it. Please share some feedback about what I said of bringing kids young and old back to laboring and treasuring from the natural realm, instead of being entangled by the ways of this technical ways of this world where their minds are so warped. Thanks!
 
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This will happen in the micro--family-by-family, because I don't think many teachers are going to be able to risk teaching such a thing. Parents will have to learn and teach this to their children, which I have been doing with the help of Sergei Boutenko's wonderful book and basic video. Within family groups is where I see the way forwards for increasing foraging knowledge.

(P.S. All his digital stuff is in a bundle here: https://permies.com/t/70674/Complete-Wild-Edibles-Package-Sergei)
 
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So many good memories of doing this with my daughter. I can see the wild strawberries no bigger than her small fingernails. The sun the smell the taste as if it were yesterday.
 
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I think it depends on the kid, and I think a lot depends on how much passion or interest you have in the subject. If you're interested and excited about things, that can be contagious. If you happen to be watching videos about basket making, shelter making, cordage making, fibre making, etc, they might come over and watch, too!

My kids grew up watching BBCs "Tales of Green Valley" (and the Edwardian/Victorian/Tudor/etc farm videos). These are great introductions into life of those who lived centuries ago. If you're homeschooling, see what skills people had to build/make stuff from the time periods your kids are learning about, and use that as a way to learn about it. My kids last year were learning about the Colonial period, so we bought milk paint and they painted signs for outside. If you're not homeschooling, see if you can find out what time period the kids are learning about in school this year, and dovetail in some additional videos and maybe activities at home. Or, just get interested in that time period and do those skills where your kids can see you.

If you're busy learning a skill that you want to learn (or you want them to lern), they might see you doing it. And even if they don't take interest and try to make, say, a basket, too, they will know these things are possible.

My kids seem to learn a lot of this just from seeing me do them. My kids watched me turn branches and blackberry vine into brooms for them (here's the thread). When they found a tree they liked, I spent the time to turn it into a Tree Fort House. My daughter likes to get "special deliveries" while in her tree fort, so I'd craft dolls, brooms, "billows," baskets, bracelets, etc out of blackberry vines, tree branches, and ferns. It gave me a chance to learn how to do this stuff, too!

My son also loves watching people building cabins and historical structures, and he wanted an "underground house," so we learned how to make a Debris Shelter. Following your kids passions is huge! If they love, say, minecraft, show them how they can actually craft paper (I'm not sure sugar cane will work like it does in minecraft, haha!), or make wood planks, or turn lapis lazuili into a pigment for paint, or yellow flowers into a dye. A lot of minecraft is based on reality--show them what parts are! Do the mining and crafting in real life!

I think the hardest part for me is just getting the kids to go outside. They either think it's too rainy or too hot or too cold or they just want to be inside. I'm going to see if I can get them outside today to learn/play! I think a big part of getting them outside is making outside (A) fun, and (B) somewhere that they can call their own. It's part of the reason I followed a lot of their lead when crafting their outside play ideas (see Permaculture Playground and Diner for more pictures/info)

Looking back at how I've taught my kids about these things, I think I probably could have had them do more of the work.... but I also didn't want it to be something they hated because I "made them do the work." They do the parts they find fun, and I do the rest. And, for now, they still find it fun to learn and watch, and I'm not too worried. I do hope I can get them to do a little more each year. Maybe I'll take mine out to their "Tree Fort House" and we'll wild craft some fun things to decorate it!


 
Nicole Alderman
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You inspired me to get out there with my kids and put my words to action!

I said to my kids, "Hey, you want to go play out at Tree Fort House?" My daughter (6) was excited and I got her all bundled up to go outside (she won't stay long outside if she's not cozy!). My son (9) initially didn't want to go outside. I didn't want to make this a "thing," so I said that was fine and went out with my daughter.

When we got to Tree Fort House, we discovered the logs my father had left when he'd trimmed out one of the coppice trunks to give the kids more room to play in their tree. My daughter and I got right to work on transforming the logs into a bench!

maple logs in the woods with chisel, mallet, and hatchet
Maple log to turn into a bench
My daughter working on the notch


She had fun switching between the different tools (whenever I'd do something new, she'd want to come try, too. ) She'd get tired and go back to playing, or want to switch and try a different tool, which I totally let her do.

child sitting on hand-carved bench
The bench is just the right size!


Just as we were finishing the bench, my son came out. I made a point of not making him feel bad for having missed the carving/hatcheting/chiseling action. Both kids played together for a while, while I was trying to use maple bark to weave a basket (I abandoned this project, as I just didn't have enough pieces left over from debarking the bench). The kids did get to see how the inner bark was nice and flexible for basket making, though!

Inner-bark of a maple tree--there wasn't enough to make a good basket, though


My son then went and tried to push down a tree. This didn't work out, so I handed him the hatchet, and he went to town! I'm glad I didn't berate him for missing out, because he ended up getting LOTS of practice with the tools. He tried the chisel on the tree, and instantly realized it wasn't a good tool. He used the hatchet and managed to cut down the tree all by himself!

my son, cutting down his first tree
he did that all by himself!


To keep myself busy while he worked (that way I wouldn't go and try to "help"), I made a broom for their Tree Fort House. Since I was still working on that after my son cut down the tree, he then started flattening the top for fun, and then carved his initials on other trees.

the tree is down!


My son also spotted the little western hemlock trees growing around and asked if those were "the good ones you can eat." I said, "yes, they are!" So we all munched on the hemlock tips (like spruce tips, they're great sources of vitamin C) and harvested some more for tea.

western hemlock sprig
my daughter helped harvest some, even though she didn't like the flavor


All in all, it was a great time. I'm glad I didn't go out there with the intention of "My kids are going to learn X, Y, Z; and they're going to make A, B, C." I just let it be what it was, and we had fun and the kids learned:

-- How to use a hatchet, chisel, and mallet and which tools are best for what actions
-- That the inner bark of maple trees is nice and flexible
-- Western Hemlock tips are edible and medicinal
-- Trailing blackberry vines make reasonable cordage
-- Skinny branches can turn into a broom
-- How to cut down a tree...and how much time and effort it takes to cut one down (some of the things my son said, "I could hollow this out and make a boat...or cut a bigger one down to make a canoe, but maybe I couldn't? That's probably too hard," and then I explained that's why people would switch between axes and burning to cut down trees and hollow them out for logs. We get tired, but we can still do it!)

The bench, the broom, and a hemlock crown I made for my daughter. It was too pokey, so now it's a wreath!
 
Blake Lenoir
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You all tried sumac lemonade or for seasoning to create better taste? I haven't tried some myself as I'm trying to save seed to grow for the coming spring. I wanna find out how I make better sumac lemonade and when I harvest it before I use it for lemonade?

 
Nicole Alderman
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My mom has sumac growing in her back yard. I've been meaning for years to harvest some and try it out, but I never seem to remember a the right time of the year!

Edit: I just learned you can easily divide sumac. I'll have to see if my mom will let me divide off a sumac start!
 
Blake Lenoir
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I should learn to make sumac lemonade myself this year. Could we make juice from wild berries we pick from the field? Y'all tried huckleberry before and is it the same as blueberry?
 
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There are a lot of First Nations schools that are moving towards land-based education which usually includes a significant hunting and gathering component. It's becoming an important part of reclaiming culture and traditions. I teach at an on-reserve school in a rural location and we do lots.

In my class we've gathered, hunted, and/or processed probably a dozen different plants/animals. I'm not much of a hunter (we have a community member who helps with that) but I'm good with plants. With plants I really emphasize that you must be 100% certain on identification before eating something you gather. This fall along a trail there was wild mint and hemlock growing right next to each other which was a perfect learning opportunity. We recognized the scent of the mint before seeing it and I stopped and asked them to point out which plant it was that we were smelling. Almost half of them thought it was the hemlock. So then we looked more closely at the differences between the two plants (which are really not similar at all to an experienced gatherer's eye, but it is hard to recall how confusing ID can be when you're just starting out). Nothing like a deadly poisonous plant to really drive a lesson on caution home. I do introduce some botanical jargon (alternate/opposite, leaf shapes, etc) but mostly it's just about getting out and meeting the plants, both edible and poisonous, in their habitat.

We just barely missed the window for harvesting wild mint and wild turnip before school ended in June. That's one issue with the modern school schedule and land-based education - July and August are important months for gathering (and gardening) but we're not in school.

Another tricky part is that by making it part of school, it immediately becomes less attractive to the students (can you tell I teach teenagers?). And yeah, phones are a big problem - some kids just can't put them away. I try to get them to use them to take pictures and record our trips but they're 99% just a distraction.

I could write way more but I have to teach tomorrow so I'll leave it there for now and pop back in on this discussion in a few days.
 
Blake Lenoir
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How kids respond to your lessons day in and day out to grasp a sharp understanding of what the natural world's about? Is your community off grid? How would kids adjust to an off grid environment when things go down?
 
Nicole Alderman
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Blake Lenoir wrote: I should learn to make sumac lemonade myself this year. Could we make juice from wild berries we pick from the field? Y'all tried huckleberry before and is it the same as blueberry?



It depends on the huckleberry! Huckleberries and blueberries are actually in the same family, but the flavors (and colors!) can vary greatly!

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have an abundance or red huckleberries. These taste quite different from blueberries or mountain huckleberries. Red huckleberries are more sour and tangy. I love the flavor, but I remember the disappointment on the face of my friend when I brought her a bowl of red huckleberries--she'd been waxing nostalgic about huckleberries, and so I brought some. She was expecting blue/mountain huckleberries, and was not thrilled at all by the red ones!

Red huckleberries are one of the earliest berries in my area. They start showing up about 2 weeks after the salmonberries, wild strawberries, and honeyberries (those three are our earliest berries). We put them in smoothies and eat them raw. I really like them!

I don't see why you couldn't make juice from them. I've also mixed them with other berries to make jams/jellies, which have always been delicious.
 
Blake Lenoir
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Were the red huckleberries more tangy than the blue ones? Do all darker versions of berries taste much sweeter than the lighter ones? Y'all had lingonberries and thimbleberries before since they're similar to blackberries? I've heard you all got Himalayan blackberries and more invasive than the native ones. How y'all deal with these pests choking the living daylights outta the ecosystem in the northwest?
 
Nicole Alderman
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Blake Lenoir wrote:Were the red huckleberries more tangy than the blue ones? Do all darker versions of berries taste much sweeter than the lighter ones?



The red ones don't really taste like blueberries at all. Red huckleberries are bright, tangy and a good amount of sweetness. They also differ greatly on a bush-by-bush basis. When I was a kid, my parent's 1 acre property had at least 12 different red huckleberry bushes and they were all a bit different from one another. One bush had large, juicy, sweet delicious berries. Another bush had tiny berries that were really seedy and not terribly good. And there was everything in between. My property now, thankfully, doesn't have any of the tiny seedy ones, but there are bushes that are just sweeter and bigger. If you go on any hike in the northwest, you're bound to find red huckleberry bushes in abundance, especially in early July. You'll usually find them growing out of old cedar stumps and they look a lot like blueberry bushes.

Y'all had lingonberries and thimbleberries before since they're similar to blackberries? I've heard you all got Himalayan blackberries and more invasive than the native ones. How y'all deal with these pests choking the living daylights outta the ecosystem in the northwest?



Thimbleberries are a true delight! They grow in moist areas, usually in partial shade. The berries are like a milder raspberry, sweet and delicate. They're one of my favorite berries!

I believe my grandmother grew loganberies, and they taste a lot like our native trailing blackberries. Really good! It's a more complex and delightful flavor than Himalayan blackberries. They have far tinier seeds, too.

As for dealing with the invasive himalayan blackberries and evergreen blackberries (which have nasty curved thorns--really painful!), I do a mix of things, depending on the circumstance:

    ~ If they're growing in the lawn, I just mow over them!
    ~ If they're growing in a hedge, I try to out compete them with salmonberries, raspberries, and thimblerberries. This doesn't work perfectly, and does take some maintence, but I can eat the invasive blackberries, so I don't mind so much!
    ~ If they're growing where I want a garden, I trim them to the ground and put layers of paper bags/paper feed sacks over them, cover that with mulch, and then cover that with soil. They'll eventually poke through, but I just weed them out like I weed everything out. If you pull the little sprouts every day, they eventually give up.
    ~ If they're growing in my garden, I just keep pulling them out. I try to get as much root as possible, but otherwise I just hack them back and keep going.
    ~ I put them to use! If you smash them against a rock to loosen up the pith inside, you can separate the green layer and use that to make cordage and weave basket!


My first basket was made of nettle and Himalayan blackberries, and this past July I made a basket for my neighbor's birthday present (I learned how to make a basket here: PEP: Weave a Basket):

my first basket!
himalayan blackberry and western red cedar basket


This permie made twine from her himalayan blackberries (pictures taken from her post here)

Scraping the outer skin from the fibers.
blackberry twine


So, hack it back, eat the berries, and use the canes when you need cordage or basketry material!


The Pacific Northwest is a fantastic place for berries. Here's what you can kind of expect in order of when each berry appears. We have berries from mid-late May all the way into October!

Starting in mid-May to early June (May 7 was the earliest I have recorded): Honeyberries, salomonberries, and wild strawberries will all start ripening within days of each other.
A week later: domestic strawberries and maybe red huckleberries
About a week later: trailing blackberries (by Fourth of July, you might find enough to bake a pie)
A few days later: black cap raspberries
Then: Thimbleberries & blueberries (usually first week of June)
Then: Cherries (mid June)
Then: Himalayan blackberries (usually the end of July is when they start ripening, and that's about when the trailing blackberries taper off.)
A week later: Evergreen blackberries

Unless it's a damp year, there's Himalayan blackberries to be picked into October. Aronia berries are toward the end of the season, too. I sometimes find wild strawberries in October, too. The mountain huckleberries ripened around September/October, too, if I remember right.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Blake Lenoir wrote: How kids respond to your lessons day in and day out to grasp a sharp understanding of what the natural world's about? Is your community off grid? How would kids adjust to an off grid environment when things go down?



When we've had 2-3 day power outages, the kids have been fine. My daughter was really sad that she couldn't watch her morning video, but my husband and I always act excited about power outages, and so the kids quickly adjust and have fun. Last power outage, my husband brought in a big cardboard box from the garage and that kept the kids busy for hours. I think a kids reaction to the power going out has a lot to do with how their parents act and how prepared their parents are.

When I was a kid, we had a 4+ day power outage. We had a woodstove and lots of oil lamps. I remember playing gamed in front of the fire, listening to the hand-crank radio with my dad, sewing and embroidering my first pillow (I was 9) in my little rocking chair by the fire. My friends didn't have woodstoves. They didn't have oil lamps. Their houses were cold and dark, and they loved hanging out at our place. I realized then and there that I wanted to be like my parents when I grew up, and I've always loved power outages. My kids cheer when the power goes out, because we always have fun, and we have a woodstove for heat and cooking, and oil lamps and hand-cranked lights and lots of rechargeable headlamps for light. We have a generator that we plug in once or twice a day to power the fridge and freezer and then we turn it off.

Now, a short-term power outage, or making stuff from scratch because we can and we need to, isn't stressful for my kids. They like learning about the old days and learning new skills, and I think a large part of that is that we've always modeled that.

But, there's lots of other things that can make life stressful. And, expecting kids (especially) to step up and be resilient when you are struggling to juggle everything successfully, is a very tall order. You don't need grid failure or natural disasters for that to happen. In my SHTF year, there were no natural disasters or plagues or war or anything external like that. I "simply" had an infant, a tantrumming toddler, and a husband who experienced a debilitating Chron's flare up. He couldn't walk for a long time, was hospitalized,  and even when he was "getting better," he could barely walk and I had to care for him, my infant daughter, my tantrumming son. And since his condition is auto-immune, I had to cook everything from scratch, all while trying to care for ducks and a garden. I dropped too many balls. And, no, my son did not magically step up and help out as people think kids will magically do. If anything, it traumatized him and it took years of healing and stability to get him back to where he was before all of that. (You can read more about that crazy year in The reality of homesteading has dissolved my "prepper"/homesteading fantasies)

I guess it all comes back to how I think the best thing we can do to teach our kids and equip them for the future, is to be prepared ourselves. Learn all you can (the SKIP/PEP program is an excellent start--it's where I learned a lot of what I know!), model your knowledge, teach it when they're interested, and be as knowledgeable/experienced/prepared as you can be to juggle and deflect whatever life throws at us.

It helps if you can get the kids away from the screens, so they actually see what you're doing/learning! (My kids do not have cellphones or ipads. They're still little, but I like that we all share our two computers. This limits screen time, and gives us parents an opportunity to guide the kids as they watch things, and for them to pick up knowledge through the thing we watch)
 
Blake Lenoir
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Outstanding testimony! Wish I was active as these kids were during their time being off grid.
 
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Can't speak to how you want to teach your own kids, but if you're interested in outreach to kids from non-permie families, have you considered summer programs? Plenty of parents like to pack their kids off to summer activities, and summer camp is a traditional place to learn about nature and crafts so it won't inspire as much push-back as trying to integrate ethnobotany into a school would. You'll probably need to be able to pass a background check because you'll be interacting with kids, but try reaching out to your local summer camps (Scout or otherwise) to see if they'd be interested in having you drop in to lead workshops, or even join the staff full-time.

"How to avoid poison ivy/poison oak" is always appreciated at camps where those plants abound. "Nature walks" are good for identifying both noxious and useful local plants. For "craft workshops", consider what the final project will be. Making an object to show off to Mom is a nice concrete goal that can integrate multiple skills.
 
Blake Lenoir
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I got some growing plots up at my community farm as teaching tools to kids to teach them a thing or two about ethnobotany. My gardens concentrate on the historic side for humans and wildlife on a local standpoint as well as from a family standpoint.  I've grown some wild and cultivated plants for eating and healing. Some for food are sunchoke, wild onion, prickly pear, wild rose and cutleaf coneflower. Healing such as wild bergamot, jewelweed, sweet flag and purple hyssop. Hoped I explain well about what I planned to do with them.
 
Adam Perrodesol
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Blake Lenoir wrote: How kids respond to your lessons day in and day out to grasp a sharp understanding of what the natural world's about? Is your community off grid? How would kids adjust to an off grid environment when things go down?



It is interesting doing land-based education nearly every day. Going out for a hike or snowshoe for a lesson is something that for most students would be a rare treat, but it quickly turns into "We're doing that AGAIN?" (especially when it's -20C and they think they're too cool to wear appropriate clothing). And there are still academic goals around writing etc that are tied into the land-based learning which can turn it into a bit of a grind. Trying to get them to reflect in their journals after or during a walk is often like pulling teeth except when I find a really engaging prompt.

As far as the students understanding what's going on outside, I just try to encourage being out there with senses open. Figuring out "what the natural world's about" is a lifelong process and being out on the land gets that started. There are some "a-ha" type moments and occasional unexpected insights but also plenty of blank stares when I ask questions trying to get them to extend or apply knowledge. Need to remind myself frequently that ecological literacy is a long-term process that doesn't always mesh well with the outcomes-based thinking most educators have been trained in. Some days can feel like nothing is really being accomplished but then a student will recall something from a previous lesson that I had written off as unproductive.

One big question that sort of gets at the root of your original post is: What is the best way to develop ecological literacy? How much to teach directly and how much to let them figure out using their own senses, knowledge, and thinking? There's a lot of satisfaction and a feeling of accomplishment and competence when they can figure things out themselves. But of course, when it comes to identifying edible and poisonous plants we don't have a margin for error so direct instruction is necessary. But maybe exploring which plants could be used for cordage there is room for open inquiry... as long as they can identify poison ivy.

This week we walked up a frozen creek and came upon an active beaver lodge. First instinct as a teacher was to point it out and explain what it is, but really the better way was to ask questions and think through it together so we can figure out if the lodge is active and how those beavers interact with the area we were in. And since I'm coming from a different cultural background than my students, a questioning approach also helps me slow down and not steamroller forward with a Western scientific explanation that might ignore traditional ecological knowledge.

We're not off-grid and not far from a mid-sized town. Rural but not remote. I'm not sure how they respond to power outages but I think generally the novelty of outages makes it kind of exciting. It's a jolt out of the usual and that makes it easier to forget about habits like electronics. I am thinking of restricting cell phone usage on future overnight camping trips because it was kind of sickening how much time they spent on phones last time. Exact opposite of having your senses open to the natural world.
 
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Adam, I wonder if there’s a group activity appropriate to ethnobotany literacy which would result in spent batteries in your students’ phones.  If you did that early in the outing, maybe they wouldn’t spend subsequent hours on their phones
 
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I do a lot with wild herbs, teas, tinctures etc. and work with my now 15 year old girls on a casual basis. When we're out somewhere it's like  "oh look, do you know what that plant is" etc.  etc.  One shows interest, the other not so much. But, when they were at summer camp one year a counselor took all the kids on a hike. He began pointing out plants... does anyone know about this plant... my girls said they were the only ones that knew most of them. They even told him a few more.  They were so excited to tell me about it when they got home. Since then, they show more interest.
 
Posts: 81
Location: Kalapuya Land, West of Cascades (600' elevation; 44°N. Lat.) Sandy/Silty Soil
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forest garden fungi foraging food preservation bee wood heat
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Immensely important!
When I look back on my own education, I see so much wasted time.
I feel like the television did a lot of my educating (or at least filling up my brain).
Sometimes I lament that I have hundreds of sitcom theme-songs and episodes memorized, but so few useful plants.
When I see kids camped on phones and tablets it makes me sad.

I don't have children of my own, but I'm an Uncle.   I try to teach some of the plants and their uses, but mostly encourage outdoor time in general.

Plantain (plantago spp)  has been a good introductory plant that seems to inspire some awe in the kids.  This common little weed that gets chewed up and put on a bee-sting or cut, and makes it feel better.  
On the other hand, Stinging Nettles is another good one that gets their attention in the opposite way.... but then helpful Dock leaves come to the rescue and take the sting away.
And WHAT!?  You can pick Nettles and EAT THEM!? Not getting stung?  They are impressed, and/or think I'm a weirdo.

And of course the delicious offerings of various plants: the fruits and berries, and sour leaves... those are able to catch attention!

I'm not sure what solutions there are to getting people to understand and appreciate the gifts of the plantworld- probably many and varied.

That's what I try to get across to them, without getting preachy (hopefully): the total dependence of everyone on the world of plants... and what a beautiful gift the world gives us... and the medicines we need are growing nearby... and that the bounty of the stores is really the bounty of the living world.
Ok, I'm blathering. Bye.







 
master steward
Posts: 11086
Location: USDA Zone 8a
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I feel in order to teach kids, the parent would benefit from the knowledge that is found in reading.

Here are some helpful books to get started:



https://permies.com/wiki/23598/Botany-Day-Thomas-Elpel




https://permies.com/wiki/47614/Forager-Harvest-Samuel-Thayer

These would make teaching Ethnobotany fun:











I borrowed these from Nicole's excellent post here:

https://permies.com/t/174437/Starting-tool-gaming-library#1372997


I also found some threads that I thought offered some good information that would be of value:

https://permies.com/t/21241/started-Ethnobotany

https://permies.com/t/272/interested-wild-edibles

And this class package:

https://permies.com/t/145630/Forests-Deserts-Class-Package-Slide
 
Nicole Alderman
steward
Posts: 19765
Location: Pacific Northwest
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My kids love the Wildcraft game! I do wish the game had a reference card for each plant and all of it's uses (and how to use it for those things. For example, it says to use a plant for bee stings, but it doesn't say if you should eat it, make a poultice out of it, make a tea out of it, etc.). But, even without that, it's a fantastic way to learn about plants.

My sister-in-law bought me the game, not knowing I already had it. So, I donated the extra game to my kids' homeschool co-op. I played it with the other kids there (k-2 graders) and they all really enjoyed it. Most of them knew nothing about medicinal/edible plants, but they all loved it and thought it was cool to learn about plant that they can use.
 
Thekla McDaniels
gardener
Posts: 2535
Location: Somewhere about 100 miles north east of Redding California
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I am enjoying reading this thread. Today I was reminded that in 1976 I was employed as a “trail guide” at an environmental education camp. The public schools would bring their students (11-12 year olds) (rarely 15&16 year olds) to stay for a week. My job was to take groups of students out on walks and teach them whatever I could.

That was the year of the United States bicentennial celebration. There was a gas company that had a series of commercials on television at the time, called Bicentennial moments. The commercial would open on a scene of natural beauty and the soundtrack would say “this bicentennial moment is brought to you by whatever the petroleum company was, and some other bit about our history or the revolutionary war.

The other trail guides were friends of mine.  We all had our degrees in biology, field biology or the like.  We had been studying ethnobotany, plant ecology, marine biology and those sorts of things. We were playful people and not a whole lot older than the students. Somehow we got playing with the idea of the bicentennial moment brought to you by whoever. I would stop by a poppy plant in bloom, and say something along the lines of “ this bicentennial moment is brought to you by caducous sepals and ….. “.  I don’t remember what else.  Or on a foggy morning when water was condensing on tree leaves and dripping to the ground it would be “This bicentennial moment is brought to you by fog drip, providing measurable amounts of life sustaining moisture to the community…”. You get the idea.

It was the playfulness that was helpful.  On a walk through wild areas, you don’t really know what is going to be there from one moment to the next, so the only possible lesson plan was to “be here now”, another phrase from long ago.  The idea as we lived it was to be engaged with the process of being together with the students and the environment, sand dunes, tide pools, coastal prairie and mixed ever green forest, wherever we took them.  See what was happening right then, see what the kids were responding to, and add a little bit of interesting knowledge/information.  And if one of the students had anything to say about anything they saw, follow their lead.

I’ve heard that called a “teaching moment”.  I once observed a teacher on a field trip to the zoo with 5-6 year olds.  We, the students and the teacher and the parent chaperones were standing outside the fence of an enclosure.  The animals were not doing much.  The teacher was talking about something she thought would be of value- I guess.  Anyway, there came some raucous vocalizations from the primates close by, and most of the kids ran across the path to see what was happening with the monkeys.  The available teaching moment was at the primate cage, and that poor teacher was trying to get the kids to come back to the boring enclosure where nothing was happening except her planned remarks.

When I told a teacher friend of mine, she laughed and mockingly said “ teaching moment? What’s a teaching moment!“. That’s when I learned to call those opportunities teaching moments.

I imagine each of us carries an invisible satchel for gathering what ever wisdom we encounter, in case we need it later.  My game I play with myself, is observing others - students, off spring, coworkers, who ever, see if I can understand their process, their place in relation to an obstacle, or a challenge their future might hold, and see if I can secretly slip something into their satchel that might be of use to them in the future.

I wasn’t aware of it when I was teaching outdoor education, the awareness came later when I was a nurse, but then I realized I had been playing that game for a long long time, and certainly when I had a role as teacher.

Have fun with it, and just don’t miss the teaching moments!

 
Blake Lenoir
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You all heard of a book called "Eat The Weeds" by Ben Harris? Enjoyable book!
 
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry. I wrung this tiny ad and it was still dry.
Harvesting Rainwater for your Homestead in 9 Days or Less by Renee Dang
https://permies.com/wiki/206770/Harvesting-Rainwater-Homestead-Days-Renee
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