“I have a vision on the earth made green again through the efforts of children. I can see children of all nations planting trees and holding hands around the globe in celebration on the Earth as their home and all children, all people as their family.”
- Richard St. Barbe Baker
-instill good wild crafting habits
-empower them to take control of their own health
-teach them to trust their intuition
-encourage them to explore the uses and usability of herbs
Children are naturally curious and interested in learning. Giving them the tools to discover and explore the world of herbs through many facets nurtures their curiosity and desire to learn. In the last issue I discussed ideas on teaching children in a home setting. While many of those ideas can be incorporated into a classroom, some ideas are too time consuming to allow. Today I will talk about how to incorporate herbal learning in a classroom setting.
Learning in the Classroom
“The most important thing we can teach our young people is to observe well.”
-Dr. Ernest Mayr
Classrooms can be more challenging but children really do love to work with nature. Speak with your school about sectioning off a small area to start a herb garden, seek out local venues where kids can go and explore about nature and plants (local conservation area, park, etc) in a field trip setting. There are many opportunities to incorporate herbs into the classroom setting. If there are parks or wild areas within walking distance, plan weekly outings to visit and explore.
Incorporate the home learning ideas as much as possible in the classroom setting (see Part I). You can do unit studies using herbs to teach science, research, reading, history, geography, art, music, cooking and math all at the same time.
“Once upon a time, children would have learned about the many uses of plants—as food, as decoration, and most importantly, as medicine—from their elders. A wise woman or man who had learned the ways of the plants would have guided children as they discovered the natural world around them. Our world is very different now, but plants still have much to teach us.”
-Ellen Evert Hopman, Walking the World of Wonder
-Start a garden. If the school won’t grant you a piece of land to cultivate into a garden, you can still have a garden in your classroom. Container gardens are easy to grow and the kids will love the responsibility of watering the plants, weeding, etc. Begin by choosing 5-10 herbs for them to learn about. Don’t just stick to the usual (Mint, Sage, Rosemary, Thyme). While they are good, it’s more fun to learn about some wild weeds such as Dandelion, Plantain and Chickweed or more traditional medicinal herbs such as Comfrey, Bergamot and St. John’s Wort.
-Bring in live plants for show and tell. Dig up a few plants you have growing in your own yard and bring them in to share with the class. Encourage students to bring plants in once a week for their own show and tell, complete with what they think the plant can be used for. Have the kids do research to find out what plant they have. There are several great field guides available. Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide is a great book to have on hand to identify flowering plants. Also look for Peterson’s Field Guides of Medicinal Plants which are broken up by region. Divide the kids up into groups and give each group a plant or two to examine and key out in a plant book.
-Compliment live plants with work sheets. Have your children keep a folder or binder about the plants they learn. Create work sheets for them to fill out information about each plant complete with an area for them to sketch the plant. Generate word searches, crossword puzzles and other games using the plants actions, uses, vitamins and minerals, species names, etc. Schoolhouse technologies http://www.schoolhousetech.com/ offers a free downloadable program for making work sheets that is easy to use. The puzzle maker http://www.puzzle-maker.com/ generates word searches and crossword puzzles.
If you have enough plants, they can do a pressing or rubbing of the plant. Supplement with coloring pages of the plant for them to color and label. Look online for coloring sheets of plants (lots of government websites offer them) such as: http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/kids/coloring/index.shtml, http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/uma/urban/, http://www.exploringnature.org/db/subcat_detail_index.php?subcatID=69&dbID=89 and http://www.nps.gov/plants/color/.
Dover publishers offers several coloring books about weeds, wildflowers, herbs, trees and more. Several titles include: Trees of the Northeast Coloring Book, Common Weeds Coloring Book, Medicinal Plants Coloring Book, Garden Flowers Coloring Book, American Wildflowers Coloring Book, Favorite Wildflowers Coloring Book and Herbs Coloring Book.
Also, Medicinal Plants of North America: A Flora Delaterre Coloring Book by Beth Judy is a great resource to have in the classroom.
-Offer creativity time. Tell stories about the plant, have them write stories about the plant, sing songs about the plant, do craft activities that involve the plant. Plant rubbings, pressings, painted impressions can all be fun ways to learn about the plant and remember its uses.
-Make some medicine. This can be a touchy subject in schools but you can teach children to make a basic salve as a science project. It could be introduced as part of a unit study for Pioneer times. They can learn to infuse oils and vinegars with herbs which can be used as food or medicine. Cough drops are fun and easy to make and syrup is great for coughs or on pancakes. Making oils, vinegars and syrups could be based on a theme unit around the wonderful quote by Hippocrates: “Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.”
-Reference to natives and pioneers using herbs. Bring the historical factor into herbal knowledge by discussing how indigenous people, natives and pioneers used herbs. Around 70% of pharmaceutical drugs today were derived from plant medicines and half of all anti-cancer drugs are either natural products or medicines derived directly from natural products. In the U.S., Wyeth and Merck are the only 2 manufacturers of that size that still use natural products as one of their sources to look for drugs. While most drugs are synthesized now, we owe it all to our plant friends.
-Play games. Wildcraft! from Learning Herbs is an excellent cooperative board game that will teach children about herbs. Other games such as Walk in the Woods can also be a good teaching tool. Look into getting knowledge cards from Pomegranate such as Herbs and Medicinal Plants, Darcy Williamson’s Medicinal Flower Cards available at http://www.darcyfromtheforest.com/servlet/Categories?category=Medicinal+Flower+Cards or Linda Runyon’s Wild Cards. Also, although not Herbal Based, it is a great tool for teaching plant families: Shanleya’s Quest book and card game. Make it fun! Having a Herbal game section is a great treat for students who have completed their assignments and are in need of an activity while others are finishing up their work or even a reward for doing well on tests. You can also print off Herbal Bingo from my freebies page.
Get outside and play adaptable childhood games. We like to do herbal versions of Marco Polo, Hot Potato and Duck, Duck, Goose! among other games. See my resource list for adapting these games and more.
-Complete Activity Resources. For putting together a curriculum, consider my monthly pdf zine which contains a mixture of all the above and more and can be subscribed to at: http://herbalrootszine.com. Tony(a) Lemos also offers a Summer Curriculum (which could be used other times of the year as well title An Herbal Summer: Exploring the World of Herbs with Young Children which can be purchased at her website: http://blazingstarherbalschool.typepad.com/blazing_star_herbal_schoo/2009/07/back-from-the-printers.html and contains activities for a dozen medicinal herbs.
-Start a Medicinal Herbal Library. Offering a variety of books to children is a great way to let them explore herbs on their own. There are a few children’s books available and a wealth of adult herbals that are kid appropriate. For a complete list of books to stock your library with go to: http://www.herbalrootszine.com/herbal-learning-resources/. Keep your eye out at library book sales for herbals, you’d be surprised at what you find. Continue building your library as you can to encourage students to research as the interest arises.
-Hang posters in your classroom of medicinal herbs. My four favorites are: Herbs for the People available at www.MountainRoseHerbs.com/posters/index.php, Healing Herbs by www.learningherbs.com, Native American Medicine Plant Chart by Darcy Williamson and Herbs and Medicinal Plants Poster at http://www.pomegranate.com/15122.html.
It Only Takes A Spark To Light The Fire
“There is no one way to become a healer: no particular age and no special way for medicine spirits to come. When the time is right, they come.”
-Evelyn Wolfson, From the Earth to Beyond the Sky: Native American Medicine
We never know which spark will light that fire, all we can do is make sure there’s enough kindling for that spark. By incorporating these ideas and resources in your every day classroom setting, you will create an environment that makes learning about herbs fun and exciting! Be open to flexibility in your curriculum to allow the experiences that present themselves to be explored and in doing so, that tapestry of herbal love and knowledge will be woven in your students’ imaginations, lives and souls, knowledge that will stay with them for their lifetime.
This article was originally printed in the Spring 2012 Plant Healer Magazine based on my class notes on the same subject.