It is not a secret that children are spending more times indoors. Why go outside when we have all the entertainment in the world within four walls? After all, it is a dangerous world outside and staying indoors is safe, right? Don’t worry, this post is not going to focus on the hidden dangers in your home. Instead, I will focus on the benefits of spending time outdoors. Specifically, nature and looking at plants. How many plant species can you identify? And why should I? How can you teach children, or learn together?
SPENDING TIME OUTDOORS AS A CHILD WILL MAKE YOU MORE LIKELY TO APPRECIATE NATURE AS AN ADULT
Teaching children to enjoy the natural world is not difficult. According to Professor E. O. Wilson, AKA “the father of biodiversity”, everyone is born with a natural sense of being part of their natural surroundings. The problem is when children are kept indoors, never go to a field, a forest, the coast, get their hands muddy, or get close to plants and wildlife. In 2012, the University of Plymouth conducted a four year funded project which was launched to enhance the experience of school-aged children’s learning in natural environments (LINE), which looked at the range of benefits it could provide. It was one of the largest outdoor learning projects in the UK as it covered 130 schools. The report concluded that the quality of life in children can be significantly enhanced through outdoor education. However, the global school curriculum needs to be amended to reach its potential benefit to all children. Who would have guessed? By taking children out to nature, they are happier. By understanding how plants work and what they do for animals and humans, the love and respect for nature will be cultivated and grow.
WHY SHOULD I LEARN ABOUT PLANTS?
So why should we know about plants you ask? To start, most of the things we eat or drink come from plants. Clothing, furniture, paper and fuel would not exist without plants. Most medicines are derived from plants. If you like wearing those favourite jeans while sitting in a cafe, writing your blog and drinking tea. Not to mention finally going on that road trip you have been looking forward too so long. And don’t forget the paracetamol! If you agree on everything mentioned, then you like plants and should know more about them.
HOW CAN I TEACH A CHILD OR LEARN TOGETHER?
Children are by nature curious, so it is not hard to motivate them. Remember they can touch, feel and smell. Once you are out with your gear and start noticing your surroundings, you just need to start looking at the different colours, shapes and leaves and start identifying.
WHAT DO WE NEED TO DO
Firstly, we need to find an area we want to explore. This could be a field, a woodland, the coast or even your garden to start off. The best time to start learning how to identify plants is when it is flowering. Teach some of the basic plant vocabulary: flower, stem and leaf. Other concepts used for identifying the plants will be colour, size, texture and shape. They will learn by observing closely, comparing and contrasting a familiar plant. From there it is also useful describing how they are able to identify and group the plants into families. An example of this: Examine the petal. What colour is it? White with pink tincture at its base. What is the shape of the petals and how many? The flower heads have 40 to 80 florets (individual flowers) in a cluster. What is the shape of the leaves? It is 3 oval-shaped leaflets. How does the stem look? It has creeping stems that produce roots and shoots at the nodes. It is white clover (Trifolium repens) and belongs to the Fabaceae family. Remember, start with the easy flowers. Once you learn one species, you will see it everywhere. A good way of expanding your knowledge once you get comfortable is by classifying flowers by family. It is impossible to know all species, but it is easier to classify them by family. There are many free printable resources online.
EQUIPMENT AND USE
A hardbacked notebook. You can use it to stick a sample of the plant identified and make notes that help you. If you want to take it to the next level, a good essential piece of equipment is a metallic hand lens of X10 magnification. Put it on a string so you have it close when needed and you won’t lose it. Believe me, it happens! There are plenty of wildflower ID books and beginner guides to common species in your country and area. Look for one appropriate to the child’s age but don’t be fooled, they learn fast! Warning: Plant Identification can become addicting. I am not responsible for children and adults becoming obsessed with being outdoors. So that said, get out there, learn together and create amazing memories.