Do You Dare To Pick Nettles?

Yesterday I listened to a sample class of Jennifer Louden’s Teach Now program. One of theTakeaway ideas is to: “Grab your students attention and enroll them in the learning right away.” There’s more to the notion than I’m going to say right here, but the basic idea is to grab their imagination and ignite their need to know. Ways to do this are to offer a dare, a mystery, an experience — help them experience the “huh?” — a gap in their knowledge, and then close it with an “a ha” experience. That‘s how I might achieve that.

So, today I’m telling a story at the Vashon Wilderness Program where I teach 4-6 year olds. We’ll be harvesting Nettle, and so learning a way to do it that avoids you getting “stung” (but doesn’t guarantee it!).

A story is a great opportunity for igniting that sense of “Gee, I don’t want to get stung — but you really can touch Nettle without getting hurt?”

In my story (which is based on my own true experience), Annie visits her Aunt Elinn (they are both characters in my children’s magical fiction novel, Because Of The Red Fox). Because she likes plants, Aunt Elinn is having her help with the harvest. Today’s harvest is of Nettles for food. Annie suddenly sets a challenge for herself. Can she not only harvest Nettle with her bare hands, but touch Nettle on the undersides, and along the stalks (where all those stinging hairs are) without getting stung (she’s heard that it’s possible)? She uses lessons from being attentive to the cat in her lap, and sneaking up on Robins to discover the secret on how to do that …..

Maybe I’ll share that story with you another time how about how she ends up not only stroking the Nettles, but lying on the ground beside them — without one sting! Right now I need to head on out to the forest and see if I can ignite that need to know with my kiddos!

Why I Love The Herb Fairies Books

The Herb Fairies are a marvelous book series by Kimberly Gallagher. I was part of their 2013 book club, which involved the tales, plus wonderful resources for kids (and kids at heart) for making herbal remedies, yummy foods with herbs, and fun activities.

Recently, Herb Fairies had a video contest for 2013 members. I’m excited to say that my video won the grand prize in the Testimonial category!

Anyway, take a look at my video (it’s only 2 1/2 min. long), and maybe you’ll be inspired to check out The Herb Fairies!

Children And The Magic Of Plants

It’s been a beautiful and full spring. In addition to teaching my Wise Child program, I’ve served as a teacher at the Heartstone Children’s Program (a nature-inspired Waldorf school for 4-6 year olds). Each day we spend time playing on the farm where our programs meet. The kids will nibble on all manner of plants (with the farmers’ blessing!)–herbs, broccoli florets, kale leaves, sour sorrel, roses, and more.  They especially graze on the sorrel and fennel! Watching the kids play with and amidst the plants and casually taste them, I’m convinced that every young child program should have an herb and vegetable garden specially for them!

Here are just a few images from this spring.

Tasting Johnny-Jump Ups - photo by Jane
Tasting Johnny-Jump Ups – photo by Jane

 

We gathered and tasted Johnny-Jump Ups (violets) after reading the Herb Fairies book about Violet. I find the demulcent, gently sweet taste reminiscent of Marshmallow root.

Sorrel is a favorite plant with the kids - photo by Jane
Gathering Sorrel – photo by Jane

Sorrel is a favorite plant with the kids!

At the farm: What an amazing place for kids to pass the day! - photo by Jane
The farm – photo by Jane

What an amazing place for kids to learn and play!

The day was wet with spring rain ... yet these two  kids were enthralled by the willow catkins. Enchanting! - photo by Jane
Enchanted by Willow – photo by Jane

The day was wet with spring rain … yet these two kids were enthralled by the willow catkins. Enchanting!

Calendula, Calendula …!

Awhile back, after I told a story and we explored movement as if we were Calendula following the sun, the Wise Child kids and the older kids (age 6) from the Heartstone children’s program collected Calendula flowers into a pair of jars. We poured olive oil over the flowers, added a few more, and then closed up the jars. At the same time, we gathered some Calendula seed and started our own plants, something of an experiment as it is fall. Still, as we found, Calendula sprouts readily and is eager to grow, no matter what time of year if given a little warmth, water, and sun.

Calendula Oil and Planting Seeds
Calendula Seed Planting

I then went on to put the jars of calendula in oil in the windows of my passive solar bermed home. Despite the fact that it was fall in the Pacific Northwest (thus, lots of cloudy days), we got enough sun to make some fabulous infused oil. Yes, I stirred the jars most days, and wiped out the moisture from inside the lids to prevent spoilage.

Last week we made a healing salve with our Calendula oil. The kids had a great time squeezing all the oil from the cheesecloth we used to strain the oil. Then we melted the beeswax (the kids took turns stirring it) and added the oil plus some drops of lavender essential oil. All this we poured into 2 oz containers. The kids then had fun putting on labels I’d made for the underside of the container (detailing the salve ingredients) and making labels of their own.

[I intend to create a full lesson plan on Calendula at some point, including details for making the oil and salve, as well as the story I told. Please comment if I don’t get to this quickly enough!]

The kids were engrossed in this project from start to finish! And I’ve heard from parents how their child has been using their salve for various bumps and cuts. Yay–not for the bumps and bangs, but that the kids are reaching for the salve. I think making one’s own herbal medicine is very empowering for kids!

Here are a couple of photos from other Wise Child adventures:

Evening Primrose in an improvised pot

One day,the kids and I gathered a few “volunteers” (Evening Primrose and Calendula that had clearly self-sown) from the herb garden to take home. We improvised pots from Mullein leaves, with soil from the garden.

Plants in Mullein leaf pots

Finally, here is a photo of our music session in the forest, when we drummed with corn- and other stalks (found on the farm), improvising rhythms, and providing rhythm for such songs as “Land Of The Silver Birch” and “The Canoe Song” (which make for a fun medley)

Nature Drumming

So much fun!

Entering The Garden

We’ve just completed our second week of the Wise Child Learning Program. We’re delighted and grateful to have the organic medicinal garden of Sister Sage Herbs as one area where we work, learn, and play!

I like to start sessions (when they take place in fine weather) with what I call a “greenfire”. Basically, it’s a circle created by the kids (and/or adults when present!) and myself with stones or sticks, leaves or flowers, etc. or all of the above! from the natural world. The “greenfire” serves as our imaginative and centering fire during our time in that place.

Here is our first greenfire:

Our first "greenfire"

We’ve taken time beginning to get acquainted with the herbs in the garden. I was delighted to discover one of my favorite herbs in abundance, Evening Primrose (Oenothera spp.).

Evening Primrose - one of my favorite herbs!

During our first week, we compared and contrasted plant “lookalikes”. Here are Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla, grown in the garden) and Pineapple Weed (Matricaria discoidea, a common wild chamomile on the dirt roads nearby.

Chamomile (growing) and Pineapple Weed (in her hand)

We have each chosen a new plant friend to get to know deeply this year, and whose area we will give extra-special care (weeding, etc.!)

I chose this one–or perhaps I might say, it chose me! Every time I walk even a little close to it, I find my clothes and hair coated in in its “cockleburrs”, its seed-heads with their stiff hairs and hooked ends.

Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria)- sometimes called "Cockleburr" or "Sticklewort" with good reason!

We’ve each created three-line poems inspired by our new plant friends. Look for a “Lesson Plan” in the near future about how to do this process!

We created poems about our new plant friends

An ongoing project this year is add to our “Weather Trees” — drawings we made today of a leafless tree. Each day we’ll color in a leaf to represent the weather. Today’s leaf was inspired by the morning fog that dispersed to sunshine.

Both in the garden and in other areas of the surrounding land are ripe raspberries. We can’t help but enjoy some!

Ripe Raspberries always beckon!

That’s just a snippet of our time in the garden, and of our day!