An important aspect of living off the grid is being able to supply your family with adequate food and nutrition. That can be accomplished by growing your own food in the garden and eating the results both fresh and preserved. You probably keep livestock for eggs, dairy, and meat and you may also hunt to add to your supplies. Another great way to take in more food is by foraging. You need to know your environment and surroundings intimately and understand what you can and cannot eat. Pass this valuable information on to your children, not just as a practical lesson for survival, but also as part of their homeschooling education.
A walk in the woods or fields surrounding your home can be pleasant as well as useful. Turn these walks into daily lessons on the ecology, environment, and biology of your home. With some forethought, you can teach your children all kinds of things on these walks and later as well.
If you live in or near a forest, hunting for mushrooms can be fun, educational, and practical. Mushrooms are nutritional powerhouses and can be a great supplement to your family’s diet. Just be sure that you know your edible mushrooms extremely well. The best way to learn is to find a mycology expert to show you how to distinguish between edible and poisonous fungi. If you decide to try it on your own, do your homework very thoroughly and if in doubt, throw it out. It’s not worth the risk if you are unsure a mushroom is edible. Take special care to learn about the poisonous mushrooms that mimic edible ones.
While foraging for mushrooms, you can teach your children about fungi. This fascinating kingdom of organisms is different from plants and animals. Teach younger children directly about how fungi live and reproduce while on your walks. For older kids, have them research mushrooms before the walk. As you forage, they can tell you all about them.
Mushrooms are not the only wild food that you can find in the spring. There are plenty of plants that will be coming up that you can collect and eat. What those are will depend on where you live. While waiting for spring to arrive, you and your children can prepare by making a foraging plan. Together, research what plants are edible and how to find them. While doing so, teach your kids about the biology of different plants. You can talk about how plants get food, what light does for plants, photosynthesis, and more.
Incorporate art into your botany lessons by creating pictures of plants that you expect to find on your foraging trips. Once your kids have drawn each plant, they should be able to find them outside without a reference picture. They can also create diagrams of the internal workings of plants. For instance, they could make pictures of a cross section of a stem or leaf or a diagram of a plant cell and its organelles or parts.
History and Folklore
People have been foraging for thousands of years and you can turn that fact into a history lesson. Teach your children about the fact that people foraged for food long before agriculture existed. You can talk about the transition between gathering food and the start of true agriculture. Discuss the social implications of the change and how that led to civilizations throughout the world.
Of course, long after agriculture began, people still foraged, and not just for food. Herbs and other plants were collected to act as medicines. Older children may find a research project on this topic interesting. Challenge them to find out what types of plants have been used by people throughout the world as cures for various ailments. Discuss the fact that while many of these are proven to have some positive effects, others remain in the realm of folklore. Your more advanced kids can try to find examples of plants that modern medicine has actually used effectively, such as willow bark and aspirin. They can also find stories about plants that seem to be nothing more than folklore, for instance the fact that mandrake roots are thought to be able to kill people with a scream.
Ecology and the Environment
Walks through your local environment are a great way to learn about ecology and environmental issues. If you have a river nearby, for instance, you can talk about rivers as ecosystems. Find out what types of animals live in the river and what plants grow there. This could include a discussion of fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals and how they are different. Ask your kids to come up with reasons why these particular animals make the river their home. Ask them if they would be able to survive in a different ecosystem.
For an environmental science lesson, research your river to find out if it has ever been polluted or if any companies have been situated on the river that may have dumped waste in it. Expand the research to include everything upstream from your location. Discuss with your children the implications of polluting rivers. If possible, find another river that is more polluted so that your kids can see the differences between the two.
There are many different projects that you can create for learning about your local environment. Create an insect collection. Trap the insects in jars with a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol. This will kill the insect, but keep it intact. Your children can spend hours outside collecting as many different insects as possible. Later, have them do research to identify and learn about the species they found.
You could also create a survey of your surroundings. Block off small area with posts and string. This can also turn into a math and measurement lesson. Give your kids journals for observing and recording species that they find in the survey area. This project can be as long or as short as you want it to be. For older children, make it a year-long project. Set aside time once a week for observations and recording. Include time observing it from a distance with binoculars to look for larger mammals that might be scared away by close observation.
Foraging in the spring can mean much more than simply putting food on the table. Use your spring walks to create all kinds of lessons for your children and make learning meaningful.