Wednesday, March 6, 2013
The Importance of Knowing Your Plants
I teach my students about plants by using wild ones that we find on the playground. Some people may call them weeds but they are readily available, free, have the same parts as any other plant, and are more interesting than you would ever believe!
That highly engaged class, nearly 20 years ago, was just learning to identify the plants on our school grounds. We were out on the playground doing a little exploring and picking out the plants we remembered when Jason came running up to me. Before I realized what was happening, he had shoved a large, bushy plant into my hand, saying, "Teacher! What is this?" I looked down out at a plant I was certain hadn't been on the playground. Within a couple of sinking seconds I had noticed the shapes and numbers of the leaves and realized what I was holding. "Jason, this is poison ivy. Where did you find it?" Jason pointed to a chain-link fence on the perimeter of the grounds. He had somehow pulled it out of a neighboring yard and through the fence!
After disposing of the plant over a wood fence into an empty lot, we all headed into the school. Not knowing who else had come in contact with it, we all washed our hands and arms with cold water and detergent and I hoped that Jason and I had been the only ones with direct contact.
We were all very lucky that spring; all but poor Jason. He was out with a severe case of poison ivy for two weeks. I had checked the school grounds over very well but had missed what was growing in the neighbor's yard.
Now, the first lesson of my plant unit is about the dangers they may encounter as we explore the grounds. We look at pictures and sketch the leaves of poisonous plants. It's actually a very intriguing way to start a unit and they all learn what they should do if they find themselves in Jason's shoes.
I also remind them not to put plants in their mouths. We never know whether or not the plants have been sprayed with herbicide or other dangerous chemicals. Allergies can also be a concern in some cases.