Plant Science: Nourishing a Source of Childhood Wonder

by Anastasia RisleyGHFO Instructor

Many children look at trees and other plants and understand them as a constant presence in the world around them. Most children have picked up a stick a few times, or looked up at leaves fluttering and whooshing above them in a big, shady tree. What child can resist picking a leaf or tugging on grass botanywhile sitting down for a picnic? Adults and children alike find smelling fragrant flowers an excellent pastime. My own childhood memories involve a unique perspective that being around four feet tall offered—grass, flowers, branches, and roots, all at eye level. So many children have had close interactions with the vegetation around them, sparking their minds to wonder just what could be going on in those green worlds.

Then we have those children who look into the small details of everything. One may find a child like this with her forehead pressed up against the bark of a tree in a park, or climbing a cherry tree and falling out at barely four years old. Adults may think, she seems quite focused on something . . . but not on the beehive next to that tree knot, or the lack of branches below her. Meanwhile, the child may matter-of-factly inform you that she saw some fuzzy green and blue stuff inside of the crack in the bark. Or, that her arm is really hurting, but she saw a big bunch of flowers on a tree that were a different color to the rest and she just had to look closer. As autumn approaches, you may discover that pinecones have exploded all over her bedroom and she’s beginning to store them in plastic bags to plant later. Do these experiences sound familiar to you? Congratulations! You have a miniature botanist on your hands.

I was one of these plant-curious children. And although I got myself into some pokey/viney/insect-filled situations, I turned out fine! Feeding my love for plants has meant that life is a never-ending source of fascination. When children have the opportunity to open their minds up to life sciences, they gain access to endless learning. Just memorizing the identity of all the domesticated plants in your neighborhood can take years! Encouraging an interest in biological science, whether botany, zoology, or microbiology, provides immeasurable value. Take botany, for example, where the subjects of study are nearly everywhere. Consider the finicky orchids on the dining room table, a fern in a doctor’s office, or a swaying willow tree in a local park: we cohabitate with plants in countless contexts, offering spontaneous opportunities for inquiry and learning.

Studying botany provides a constant source of inspiration as well as mental stimulation. The many personality types of gifted or 2e kids will discover that plant science leads to areas of study compatible with their nature. Emotionally sensitive children may find joy in the shared sensitivity of the specific needs of individual species. They may find breathing easier around a plant whose quiet, solid presence is reliable and predictable. Mechanically minded children may find that counting petals while learning the morphology of plants and their variations is a thrill. They may gain a new sense of confidence in an ability to look at the pieces of a plant and find their way to its identity. Artistic children may discover that plants as a visual subject matter never fail to inspire new techniques and exploration of color theory. And for hands-on children, who really like to “dig” into a project, nothing inspires connection, empathy, and a sense of progress like growing your own plant from a seed or cutting.

Fortunately for me, I have the opportunity to teach botany to gifted and 2e students with GHF Online. Sharing the source of wonder that is the botanical world has been quite enriching. I get to watch inspiration blossom within my students as they become aware of the enchanting world of plants that has always surrounded them. In Introduction to Botany (ITB), we take many opportunities to explore our own environments and see the amazing processes of how plants survive in students’ homes, backyards, and parks. With the foundational knowledge of ITB, students get to delve into more specialized knowledge in Fundamentals of Plant Science (FoPS), where we learn how to identify plants, how plants interact with one another in communities, and the cultural significance of plants across the world. Students discover how to explore and obsess over nature safely, by learning about its components first.

Whether your child’s attention to plants is well-established or just nascent, introducing a new life science subject guarantees to develop a new sense of wonder. If you are interested in signing your child up for any of these classes – or my new class, Photographing Natureregistration for GHF Online is now open for Summer 2018 and Fall 2018.


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