Signs Of Spring ~ Lesson Plan Is Here

Hazel Catkins ~ photo by Jane Valencia

Just posted is a Lesson Plan For Early Spring, the Northeast time of year — a time associated with perception and the stirrings of new life. For inspirations regarding how you might share this magical time with children please read here.  Enjoy!

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!

Feast Your Eyes On The Colors Of Spring!

Hawthorn along the edges of our farm are full white-blossom. Horse chestnut trees are flowering in white-pink spires, individual blossoms resembling elephant heads. Scotch broom, in flares of bright yellow. The brilliant red of Crimson Clover shimmers in our plowed and tilled field, The purple spires of lupine beckon us along a path. And if you look very closely at the three foot high Nettles, you’ll see dangles of tiny pale-green flowers.

Spring is a marvelous time to notice the sweeps of color. With each passing week or two, the colors shift, spreads of whites or yellows or pinks or purples appear and disappear. One of the simplest things you can do with a child (and yourself) is to just notice the sweeps of color. The bright whites of one week (say, of Apple) may have shifted to the the creamier, layered whites of this week (Hawthorn, here). The lavender purples of Self-Heal are long gone, but the pink-purple of Red Clover is just beginning to emerge.

What colors can you find in the landscape — whether of your neighborhood or a park or a wild place?

Kids (and you!) may especially love looking for colors of the rainbow — red, yellow, orange, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Let’s not overlook pink, or the many whites!

If you can pick the flowers (and if there are plenty of blooms), you and your child could pick one representing each color, and place them in a rainbow or some other design.

You could look for the different colors of green. Here on our Pacific Northwest island we have an abundance of shades of green! If the Inuit (eskimo) have 35 words for different kinds of snow, can you and your child come up with names for all the different kinds of greens you see? Or come up with names for the many kinds of white blossoms, or of any other flower or plant nature that is in abundance around you. Make them silly or poetic or practical! Play!

Lupine (Lupinus) - photo by Jane Valencia

Want Plant Mojo? Come To Your Senses!

I passed several hours today with the Vashon Wilderness Program.

With the particular clan with which I wandered, the theme of the day was Sensory Awareness. We engaged in a series of games and activies designed to bring us to our senses. You might try them yourself and/or with your family and friends! These activities have everything to do with opening our senses to the nature and wisdom of plants!
Here are a couple that we did.

Blindfold Walk
This morning, our clan paired up, one child (or adult) blindfolded, with another child (or adult) leading him or her. Then swapping. I love this activity! For me (when blindfolded), I experience a disorienting series of moments where I get used to my partner’s style, and decide I can trust him or her. Then my feet start really experiencing the ground, and my hearing goes wide, and I’m feeling the salal or other shrubs brush against me, and adjusting accordingly. The child usually urges me to speed up, and the fun begins! That’s another layer of trust–to take longer, quicker strides on what must be open paths (though I don’t know it!). My mind will attempt to “locate” where I am, but ultimately, I surrender to the experience, to my guide’s hand in mind, to her occasional words: “Slow down … step up, here … Stop, now duck your head. Lower. Go forward …”

And, in time, I remove my blindfold, and find myself laughing–senses blown wide open, and child’s delight bursting in my veins!

It’s great to have a partner in this activity, and you can certainly do this with a group of kids, or in a co-op, or wherever. Most of the time the kids are quite watchful and gentle in guiding each other. Sometimes, kids who love to rough-house together, or with a particular adult, might be less gentle and more trickster-ish. So it’s good to have a responsible adult monitoring what’s going on, or make sure that kids who might be tempted to be crazy with each other aren’t paired together. Just depends on your good sense!

Blindfold Smelling, Touching, & Tasting

You don’t need to have blindfolds, but blindfolds help signal to the kids that they’re doing something different. With everyone blindfolded (and if some kids don’t want to be blindfolded, that’s ok), hold a bag of an herb, or seaweed, or
food, or whatever and let each person sniff it. Try to hold off guesses until everyone has had a good smell of whatever-it-is. If it’s edible, you can allow tasting.

Today Cyndi O’Brien, the Clan instructor (and program director), passed a bag of dried calendula petals, and a bag of seawrack pieces (a kind of seaweed), one of dried lavender, and one of bits of beeswax (heavenly smell, but tasted of just wax!).

So, to lead this activity, you could chose four plants or related natural things (like beeswax, for instance!) for folks to smell, touch, and possibly taste, and then have everyone guess what they’ve just experienced. With newcomers to the activity, make the smells and tastes welcoming! The plants, etc. don’t all have to be sweet, just familiar.

With more adventurous or experienced-with-herbs folks, you could bring in more challenging smells and tastes. Do I need to mention to also exercise appropriate cautions? Considerations include plants that might instigate allergic reactions, potentially toxic plants, and just-say-no-to-wild-mushrooms. I’m sure you can come up with your own list of cautions. Feel free to note them below!

As a “next level” experience, you could try to have folks try to describe the taste they are experiencing. Is it sweet, salty, sour? Is it spicy? Bitter? Aromatic? Do you have another description for the taste?

And, for that matter, what is happening in your mouth as you taste the plant? What is the effect that the plant has having on you as you taste it? Is your mouth drying up, filling up with water? Do you feel a sharp sensation? A zingy sensation? Heat or a sense of coolness?

Yet another level of experience might be to explore in your body you might “feel” the plant. This can seem very much of an intuitive exercise. Where do you feel your attention being drawn to in your body? To your face, your head? Your heart or chest? Your abdomen? Any specific place within?

And, if you were to make a wild guess about how the plant might help you, what do you imagine? What area of the body or organs or aspect of the body do you think the plant helps?

I will expand on these variations in later posts. Just know that a simple experience of a plant with one’s eyes closed and senses wide-open leads to an amazing learning journey with that plant!