Children learn through exploration and using their senses. When we allow children the freedom to touch, taste, smell, hear and see the natural world around them, we offer them the greatest gift: our belief in their innate ability to learn and grow.
As adults on the trail with our favorite young naturalists, it is easy to rattle off fun facts and teach them what we already know. However, their discoveries will be so much more meaningful if we can ask open-ended questions and encourage their own curiosities and theories to form.
Wildflowers are the perfect subject for children to practice their naturalist and observation skills on. Afterall, they don’t move! So, next time you meet a wildflower, try leading the experience by asking questions.
Explore the petals, the stem, the leaves – even where the leaves grow. Look down on the petals from above. Peek at the underside of the leaf.
What does this plant look like from an ant’s perspective? What does its color remind you of? What are some other flowers that remind you of this one? Do you see any signs of pollinators?
Sniff a flower. Can you describe its smell? Is it strong or faint, sweet or pungent? How does this smell make you feel? What kinds of animals might be attracted to this smell?
What word would you use to describe how the petals feel to touch? How would you describe the texture of this leaf? Does it feel like anything else you have ever touched? Of course, some plants are more friendly to touch than others, so use your best judgement.
When little legs need to rest mid-way on a long hike or when you want to pause and reflect on your day in nature before piling into the car and heading home, take a moment to lay down, close your eyes, and tune in to your surroundings. What do you hear? Birds? The wind? Nearby water? If you lay there a little longer, can you notice even more sounds? What clues do these sounds give you about your surroundings? What sounds might you imagine hearing here at nighttime?
May these questions lead you to many wonderful new discoveries and special times together with your children and grandchildren in nature.
WARNING: Do NOT eat a wild plant unless you are 100% certain of its identification! Foraging is great fun and can be done safely by knowledgeable and experienced individuals. If your child is interested in exploring nature with their sense of taste, many great books and classes about safe foraging with kids are available!