It’s all well and good to talk about plants in general and their contributions to the health of the atmosphere (specifically its oxygen and carbon dioxide levels); their gifts of food and shelter that result in burgeoning biodiversity; their role (with the aid of certain bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi) in the formation and retention of fertile soil on earth’s rocky crust; or the functions they serve in preserving clean waters… but this is far too abstract for most youngsters!
Eventually they should understand all this – and I hope that you’ll make certain that they do hear these overarching truths at least in passing from a very early age. (I might begin mentioning plants’ gifts to 3- and 4-year-olds!)
But at any rate, it’s very worthwhile to introduce students to particular species of plants in their parks and neighborhoods. Youngsters should be encouraged to familiarize themselves with these amazing creatures and to appreciate their variety, unique characteristics, and real presence. I hope you’ll be able to offer the children you teach plenty of opportunities to spend enjoyable time with the living plants that are our companions in this bioregion: learning their names and interesting qualities; doing hands-on craft and art projects with and about them; caring for the plants through watering and tending (as needed); and learning mythic stories about these green creatures. Human children should also be acquiring concrete information about plants’ intricate interrelationships with each other and other non-living and living beings (including us) within our mutually shared ecosystems. From such experiences, eventual understandings of plant biology, ecology and ethical responsibility will blossom. Such understandings will be firmly grounded in direct, hands-on knowledge, practice, and happy, grateful memories.
Presented above and below are samples of a coloring and word-based activity that can assist with this learning process – especially when it’s combined with frequent field trips to the plants’ homes in the school yard, nearby parks, neighborhoods, and / or nature centers. Such places can become destinations where students can search for and interact with as many of these plants as possible. The two PDF pages focus on the benefits conferred by eight easily found trees and perennials of northeastern forest and field ecosystems. They document the particular, renewing, sometimes symbiotic partnerships that Native American wove between themselves and these plants, relationships that have endured for over 10.000 years.
If the youngsters are intrigued with this topic and like this format, they could form teams and design their own versions of this activity featuring original student drawings and writing about other favorite near-by plants. They could share the product of their collaborations with a designated audience of younger students or the entire learning community – including, of course, their families. They could develop their study of common plants and their human connections into a fine long or short Project-Based-Learning experience. Sample pages from such a project can be found on this website on the page entitled “Trees of Our Region – A Project Based Learning Endeavor” (to be published soon).
Here are the black and white PDF’s of these two pages.