Our Children no longer learn how to read the great book of Nature from their own direct experience, or how to interact creatively with the seasonal transformations of the planet. They seldom learn where their water come from or where it goes. We no longer coordinate our human celebration with the great liturgy of the heavens.” – Wendell Barry

There’s a rule in our house. No electronics until several things are done for the day. They include daily schoolwork finished, chores finished, any practices finished (dance, instrument, sport) and I’ve recently added one more item: until you’ve played outside for 1 hour.

This subtle change to the rule has been magic. There are days they don’t play on the computer at all. They get so absorbed in their outdoor play that they don’t want to come in except to refuel. This is wonderful except for the days that they decide to do this first before all their other required daily activities but that’s the beauty of homeschooling, our days are flexible. I’d rather they miss a day of reading and writing and arithmetic if it means they spend the day breathing fresh air and getting dirty. The benefits far outweigh the consequences: healthier immune systems, healthier appetites (less eating from boredom and more eating to nourish), deeper sleep and quieter minds. Plus, there’s great learning to be had in play, kids just don’t get enough natural play in our modern world. 


While this doesn’t directly tie into learning about the medicinal uses of herbs, it teaches children to enjoy the outdoors, to the point that they prefer it to being indoors, and they are fully immersed in the plants themselves. Poke berries become pretend food for their dolls, or paint for them or juice in their cups. From previous uses, my kids know to respect Poke berries and know that Poke is a powerful healing plant that is not to be taken lightly so they respect the plant and never try to ingest it. They use Plantain for blankets and Oak bark for building furniture. And though they may not consciously know what each plant is used for medicinally, the plants are imprinting on their subconscious in many ways that will retain awareness in the years to come. Through sensory play, touch, sight, smell, sound and sometimes taste (who can resist when those Mulberries are juicy and ripe?) they are learning about the plants and becoming familiar with them.

Natural Play as a Gateway to Herbal Learning

As my children grow and learn, their play becomes more sophisticated. They play “doctor” and use a Plantain leaf as a band-aid for a wound or a Burdock leaf to cover and bandage a burn. They mix up concoctions of herbs to feed to their “patients” as they work to heal their imaginary wounds. They make quick spit poultices to apply to wounds and mix imaginary salves from their plants to spread on the wounds. A natural role playing game automatically starts to summon their sense of herbal knowledge and awareness the more they play.

Natural Play as a Gateway to Herbal Learning

I am currently putting together a unit study for our school work based on My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George as I have found the currently available lesson plans a bit lacking in the nature department (and more heavily on the 3 ‘r’s of learning). A favorite book of mine from my youth, I hope to engage their senses of wonder even more with this book. One of their chosen subjects this year was survival skills and what better book to raise awareness than this gem? Though the book doesn’t touch on the medicinal uses of plants, Sam uses many in the book for food such as Solomon’s Seal which is a wonderful medicinal plant. A companion book, Pocket Guide to the Outdoors that she published many, many years later does provide about 30 pages of information on edible, poisonous and medicinal plants, making it a great supplement to her trilogy. I’m afraid my version of this “unit” will turn into a year long (or better yet, lifetime,) study! My kids love to build their own survival shelters and try to start fires with only flint, steel and found tinder. I visualize many hours of outdoor play re-enacting Sam and Alice (his younger sister who appears in the sequel) along with some herbal remedies thrown in for good measure.

Sometimes, the best way to get kids interested in the medicinal uses of herbs is by encouraging their love of the outdoors. By creating electronic free time (or even days), kids soon discover just how wonderful it is to be outdoors and will soon be choosing it over electronic play on a daily basis.

Natural Play as a Gateway to Herbal Learning

How do you get your kids outside to play? Do you plant ideas to get them started? What games have you seen your children entwining with their herbal and natural plant knowledge? Please share with us in the comments!