Children are given a category to personify: herbivore, carnivore and plant, at its very basic.
Their job is to run around an outdoor space and capture whatever it is the animals eat.
The children have a set number of ‘lives’ they are given, and they must perform a task to get more lives if they need them.
If you are a plant, you do a lot of hiding! If you are a carnivore, a lot of sneaking and running! Some games add the ‘human element’ (disease, paved forests, etc.), ‘mother nature’ (floods, fires) or composters.
Recently our "Squirrels" class (ages 4-6) played a new version of Animal Game this month, and learned biology and chemistry while they were at it! Instead of animals, they were the pieces of a plant’s world: roots, leaves, water, sun, Carbon dioxide (CO2), Oxygen (O2) and people.
The roots eat the water, the people eat the O2, the leaves eat the CO2, the people also eat the leaves, the leaves eat the sun, and water hides a lot!
The children loved this game!
When they were asked to make a large-scale art poster of who eats what (photosynthesis) it became clear they had absorbed the knowledge, just by becoming the parts themselves. No testing, no lectures, no ‘studying’ required; just full-out excitement! We even brought a microscope one day to look at those leaf cells up close!
The children seemed to be most interested in the roots, and began spontaneously watering the roots in the Bluff, turning their knowledge into empathy for the plants there. We decided to focus on roots. There are some wildflower roots and plants one can eat – what if we took our learning in this direction?
The children were ecstatic. Digging up dandelion roots was hard work, but they enjoyed scrubbing and chopping them up! We also collected the dandelion petals and steeped them into a tea we all enjoyed together! We came across a plant that had been pulled up and left by the side of the path; it had a long root, like a white carrot, and long skinny leaves. We didn’t know what it was, so we didn’t eat it, but we chopped it up so we could investigate it.
I checked out some wildflower identification books from the library to have the children look through in order to identify our mysterious plant themselves, and eureka! Yellow Salsify, also known as Goat’s Beard. It is an invasive plant, but almost the whole plant can be eaten! We will be experimenting with the roots and leaves in the weeks ahead!
Go ahead – try some edible plants in your neighbourhood! There are great websites on edible plants/weeds, and some wonderful recipes to be found online. Find a park/backyard that does not use chemicals, and try harvesting!
Some guidelines to discuss with your children are:
i) Always identify with an adult first what you are eating.
ii) Don’t eat anything you don’t know. (For me, I have a no mushroom rule, because even the experts have made mistakes). iii) Dandelions are a great place to start – they are easily identified and easy to prepare! I made Dandelion Bread from the petals (google it – it’s delicious!) and impressed both my family and friends.
Soon, you’ll be branching out into berries, fruits, needles and sap.