It’s hard not to be happy and tranquil in nature. There is no better place to slow down, take a deep breath, and feel grounded in the middle of a busy world. The simple act of being outside has wonderful benefits for the mind and body, and the same is true for children. A recent study showed that children who grow up surrounded by nature have up to a 55 percent lower risk of developing mental illnesses than children that did not live in/around green space. Another study found that students that attended schools with green space also had higher rates of cognitive development. Want to be happy and content? Enjoy the comfort and tranquility of nature!
Nature is filled with different scents, colors, sounds, shapes, textures, and animals that can set a child’s curiosity ablaze. Children are naturally curious and extremely quick learners. First you are teaching them about the 4 seasons and the changing leaves, next they want to know why green leaves turn orange, why it gets cold in the winter, and how snow is made. A fondness and curiosity with the natural world is, well, in our nature.
Foraging, AKA scavenging, is also hardwired in our DNA but is a skill that we don’t use very often these days. You might be surprised to learn that many of the ornamental and ordinary plants in our back yards and landscaping are actually edible. Even acorns, puff balls, and cattails can provide nourishment to our bodies free of charge. Teaching lessons in foraging doesn’t mean encouraging kids to run out into the woods and start taste-testing all the different plants. No, foraging teaches children many valuable lessons such as respect, observation, and problem solving as well as giving them an open space to test their curiosity and stimulate their senses. If you’re looking for a new way to get out of the house and supplement your kids’ virtual learning, head to your local park, take a walk through your neighborhood, or even explore what your back yard has to offer!
Skills Learned Through Foraging
- Reinforced Curiosity: It’s true that curiosity comes naturally to children, but foraging helps to reinforce this skill in remarkable ways. For example, say you want to go mushroom foraging to collect all the different species you can find. Since different mushrooms grow on different surfaces, at different heights, on different trees and materials, at different times of the year, etc., it teaches children that nearly every avenue they want to explore can be a piece of the puzzle that helps them to find what they’re looking for. Even if you don’t find the mushrooms you’re looking for, foraging and paying attention to all the different pieces of the ecosystem constantly reinforces and rewards a child’s curiosity.
- Problem Solving: Foraging stimulates all five senses. You have to be very creative and observant to find what you’re looking for. Maybe you need a special tool to harvest certain plants, maybe you need to climb up a tree, or maybe you just need to find a way to carry your harvest home! No matter the scenario, foraging can help children to come up with creative solutions to their problems.
- Mindfulness and Observation: When you’re foraging, you have to have a very careful eye. Most plants are made to be camouflaged among the other plants and fungi around them. When you do find what you’re looking for, you have to double, triple, and quadruple check different aspects of the plant to make sure what you have is safe to consume, or at least that it is indeed what you are looking for. Not only does this provide opportunities for different science lessons and experiments, it also trains children to slow down and be very mindful of the details that often get overlooked. Mindfulness is a go-to skill for building confidence and advancing a child’s emotional development. Luckily, your neighborhood greenery provides many opportunities to sharpen this very important skill.
- Respect: One of the most important skills foragers need to have is respect for nature. The food that is in our grocery stores had a long journey to get there! Showing children how plants grow, where they live, and how long it takes to be fruitful instills a deep respect for nature. Over-harvesting plants could mean that the plant dies and can’t provide you, or the animals in its ecosystem, with more nourishment. Teaching children the effects that certain plants have on our bodies, both good and bad, also teaches them that they have to respect the plants and can’t pick them hastily.
- Confidence: It can feel so empowering to navigate through the woods successfully. Children are literally climbing mountains, hopping over streams, and using their brains to “hunt” for food. Though they might not be delivering a speech in front of a class or slaying a dragon, the simple act of hiking and exploring the outdoors can help children to be happy, confident, and empowered.
- Self-Sufficiency and Independence: Foraging teaches children that there are opportunities around every corner, and they have the skills to find them. Proactivity and self-sufficiency is what “closes the loop” and brings children back to square one, AKA curiosity and exploration.
How to Start
Though one of the best benefits of foraging is coming home with something healthy to eat, you don’t have to forage plants for consumption. In any case, the first step is to get reading! There are many books out there that can teach you all about foraging and plant identification. Once you have some of the basics down, you can pass this knowledge onto your children. The best way to practice successfully finding and identifying plants is to go outside! Take a basket, a plant identification book for your region, and your little learner on a walk and explain to them all the things you’re doing. You can have them help you to look out for and harvest plants. There are also fun ways to teach plant identification to your child, such as these coloring books filled with native plants. This blog also has in depth knowledge on easy to find edible plants and foraging in an urban environment.
You don’t have to be a survivalist or medicinal healer to take advantage of the many plants that are just waiting to be picked! Together with your child, be happy and have fun getting to know all the plants living in your back yard. “Time spent amongst trees is never wasted time.” – Katrina Mayer