What is a weed? How can a plant be a weed in one location and a lawn or a food/medicine in another? How can we understand the role of volunteer plants in our gardens? How can using our observation skills help us to identify common plants in the garden? What are the benefits and uses of weeds or volunteer plants? How can we make use of plants that we choose to remove from our garden?
Weeding is not a fun activity for most children. It’s onerous and confusing. Both identifying plants when they are very young and even understanding the concept of weeds and why we might want to remove one plant to make room for another to grow are challenging concepts. With the help of our teacher candidates, we wanted to make the identification of common “volunteer” plants in the garden easier and more fun for children, and give them reasons to remove and use those plants.
We introduced children to these plants by having each teacher candidate (TC) responsible for a brief 30 sec-1 minute introduction to the plant. The children rotated in small groups through each TC, learning about the plant, looking for it in the garden, picking it and bringing it back to the TC leader, and then moving on to learn about the next plant. By the end, the children were easily able to identify each plant in the garden and share some knowledge about each.
Here are some of the plants we wanted to introduce children to:
- Purple Dead-nettle-edible, full of vitamins, attracts pollinators
- Dandelion-edible, full of vitamins, attracts pollinators
- Plantain-good for bee stings and as a general skin remedy (topical)
- Wood Sorrel-edible, lemony
- Clover-attracts pollinators, good for fixing nitrogen in soil, edible
- Comfrey-skin and sprain remedy (topical), attracts pollinators
- Bindweed-can be used as twine, may have medicinal uses, very difficult to eradicate because of long underground rhizomes (cannot go in our compost!)
- Buttercup-Poisonous! Do not ingest! Pull up by the roots (cannot go in our compost!)
Extension Ideas & Connections:
Because we wanted them to understand that some of these plants will compete with the crops in their garden or even become habitat to slugs and other insects that may eat their crops, we also wanted them to feel comfortable to pull them up. The children used their “weed” harvest to make a compost tea bag (volunteer plant leaves, finished compost, and stones inside of a stocking leg), which they brewed in a bucket with a fish tank aerator for a week. They used the resulting compost tea to water their garden beds the following week, diluted 1:4.
Learning about medicinal plants can be exciting and empowering for children. They can learn to make poultices from leaves that have skin healing properties. They can also learn about the properties of various garden plants that are good for digestive healing or building immunity and make their own teas. While some plant medicines can be dangerous for children and should be avoided, there are many gentle medicines that are commonly used in tisanes and can be trusted.
Links to Materials: