"While I acknowledge that there is a certain small percentage of kids who are "responsible" and competent enough to make life-changing decisions (and, in a pinch, a lot of them/us must/have to), my bet is that kids make way more "bad" decisions than adults. The way you express this point sure put me in mind of my girl-child who, as an exasperated tween-ager, declared, "kids should rule the world, not adults!". I also bet that, in hunter/gatherer societies, gathering wild food was a multi-generational activity relying heavily on the expertice and guidance of the older members."
My original response to this :
"I have three kids: Karin and Kevin each knew and could be predictably expected to bring home the right stuff for at least 25 wild edibles by the time they were 4 and a half or 5 years old. Kori, who came along 16 years later, knew at least that many by the time she was 5 and was leading field walks to point out edibles to adults by the time she was 7. In Kaiserslauten, W. Germany, foraging is part of the kindergarten curriculum, and the kids go about harvesting lunch for themselves many times out of the year (personal testimonial from one of my graduate students who grew up in Kaiserslauten). Throughout Europe, children learn by participating with their parents on foraging outings (personal experience in France, Germany and Italy), from around the time they are old enough to walk.
The best way to teach plant taxonomy is to teach it to kids under the age of 6. It sticks for a lifetime!!"
Kat Morgenstern agreed:
I totally second what Peter says - learning by doing is the best way to teach kids about plants. I grew up in West Berlin, right in the city, yet learned to forage by time I was 5. My greatest vacation pleasures were my foraging jaunts in Scandinavia, picking wild strawberries, blue berries, raspberries and more, and also learning about poisonous plants. I can attest to what Peter said about the kindergarten education in Germany. Although I did not learn anything that useful at school or kindergarten, I now have a second home in the south of Germany and there they have so called Waldkindergarten' --basically Kindergartens that entirely take place outdoors, in the woods. Of course kids that are exposed to the elements like that will know the woodlands like the bottom of their foraging bag by the time they are old enough to go to school."
Kat Morgenstern, Sacred Earth Educational Forum and Networking Resource for Ethnobotany and Ecotravelhttp://www.sacredearth.comMany of the posts responding to the original premise--that kids shouldn't be left alone to forage till they are 18 or so-- I am pleased to say, commented along the lines of Kat and testified to their and their children's positive experiences of foraging as young people. Intriguingly, several are from those, like Kat, raised or living in Europe, where the capabilities of young children is much more highly respected than seems to be the case here in the US. I don't know where we have gone wrong, but in my humble opinion, the problem with kids in the US is parents who don't respect what they are able to do, and, hence, don't talk to them and work with them as if they were little adults.
For those of you, like the author of the original post at the top of this blog, who find it incredulous that children, treated with respect, given responsibilities around the house and yard from a young age, and talked to as you would talk to and respect an adult, will develop into responsible young people at a very young age, let me tell you a story.
Part of my academic research for the last 38 years has been as a participant-observer anthropologist among the Northern Ohio Amish settlement, becoming part of several families over the years, and involving my university students in their lives as part of their education. What I have been looking for, and documenting, has been the lessons we have to learn from their lifestyle.
It is important to know that the Amish, a conservative Christian sect that originated in Germanic regions of Europe in the 1500's and began coming to the US in the 1700's, live lives separate from mainstream society, largely by the same rules they followed several centuries ago in Europe. They have no electricity, drive buggies, have limited access to phones, plow their fields with horses, and dress in 1800's style clothing.
Each class I taught at Cleveland State University had a three day Amish field experience designed to introduce students to the Amish way of dealing with the issues that were the subject of the class.
One year, I had a group of over 20 students aged 18 to 25 at dinner that was prepared for us by an Amish family. After dinner, the family had a practice of involving my kids in parlor games that were common in families that had no TV and radio and had to entertain each other in more old fashioned ways. For one game, an 8-year-old Amish boy got up to lead the game. As he was explaining the rules, it was obvious that he was a very confident and competent young man. At one point, his mother questioned a particular rule, and he, respectfully,graciously, gently and kindly, suggested that the rule was correct, as she would see as the game got underway. He handled himself in communicating with my students, all of whom were much older than he was, with the confidence and the assuredness of an adult. The rules were correct, and the game went very smoothly, and was a lot of fun.
I was impressed. By that time, my 11 year old son was becoming a bit hard to handle and I was looking for ideas, and I thought I'd look more deeply into why little Raymond Fisher was so adult-like at the age of 8.
I learned that Amish kids get involved in the family business--whether it be farming, home management, gardening, bringing in wood, a woodworking shop, or whatever-- when they were old enough to do simple chores-- usually around the age of 3. Working together with siblings, uncles, father, mother, and maybe other relatives at various times, they mastered the job they were doing, and once they were capable of doing something more advanced, graduated to that, and so on, until by the time they were 8 or 9, they could run half the farm, or half the house, or whatever. It is common to see 6 and 7 years olds, often girls, out mowing lawns with push mowers, one pulling with a head band and the other pushing, or boys of 8 or 9 plowing a field with a two-horse hitch. (One of the great stories the Amish love to tell is about a father who took his 8 year-old boy out into the field to plow for the first time. He instructed him that, in order to plow straight furrows, aim the horses at something in the distance and plow toward it. Then when he gets there, turn around, aim at something at the other end, and repeat it. The father then went off to do other chores, and came back around noon to pick the boy up to go in to lunch. To his chagrin, there wasn't a straight furrow in the field. The father said "I thought I told you to aim at something in the distance and plow toward it. What happened?" " I did, dad, but the cow kept moving!")
Anyway, by treating their children as little adults, giving them adult responsibilities, praising them when they do well, helping them get better when they need more instruction, and even adopting good ideas made by the children about how to improve the work , the children grow up with a sense of self-importance, self confidence, and devotion to their family members that doesn't happen when kids are treated like children. Over the last 30+ years I have seen this over and over in the Amish families I know.
After learning the practice, I adapted it to the raising of my children, and in every case, the result was the same as what I had seen with my Amish friends. They are all adults now, and doing the same with their children. A grandson and granddaughter have been involved in the family business since they were "tweenagers" ---9 and 10 years old-- and their maturity and ability has carried over into their school work and sports activities as they have grown into their teens.
This is the greatest thing you can do with children, and teaching children to identify plants when they are young as many of the respondents to this thread have alluded to, is one of the best ways to get started. I have to admit that I got started doing it when Kevin was 3, and he learned the plants and has never forgotten them, However, as he got older and I got busier, I slacked off, and needed the Amish experience to remind me about the way to raise responsible children.
Good luck. Hope this is of some use to some of you.