My son’s school introduced botany to the students the other day. They had to weed a garden and plant lettuce and onions. It was a wonderful experience for the little ones, getting dirty, carefully planting the lettuce and onion buds; they had a great time. It also inspired me to look more into the Montessori botany lessons out there and this article is what I came up with.
A Montessori botany lesson is an opportunity to introduce the environment, to stimulate the senses and to generate excitement about the wonders of Mother Nature for our children. It’s also a chance to illustrate the importance of sustainability and educating our kids about how we can protect the planet’s fragile ecosystems.
In this lesson, we will delve into several botany-related topics using fun activities and a variety of media and materials. By the end, you and your children will not only have a greater appreciation of the complexity and beauty of our environment but you will have a greater understanding of the need to preserve it for our children and future generations.
Where to begin
For me, this was a difficult choice. There is just so much material to cover here with loads of great activities and media. Many suggest starting with flower arrangements or picking leaves, which is fine. But I decided to start this lesson with my kids in the most impressive way I could: in nature herself.
Go to the closest nature reserve and explore
I found this to be the easiest way of sparking interest in just about anything we came across. If you have the opportunity to choose, try to make it as bio-diverse an area as possible. This way you will have a better chance of finding and identifying a treasure trove of indigenous plants and trees.
Include the inhabitants
If you get lucky by having some critters scurry across your path, perfect! The more you can relate the environment to animals habitat the better. In our case, we came across many birds, squirrels, and lizards. Not exactly a tropical rainforest of diversity, but for a 3-year-old, it did the trick.
We also went looking for insects. When I say we I mean me. Pilar is deathly afraid of anything with an exoskeleton. But I’m trying to get my kids used to insects at an early age to minimize the typical fear children have when encountering these strange creepy-crawlies.
Bugs are an integral part of the food chain and that without them we would have no ecosystem to speak of
It’s nearly impossible to avoid bugs when going into nature, so best to nip that fear in the bud. I want them to gaze in awe at the giant spider webs we come across in the forests, not scream in horror.
We brought our leaf shape control card in order to identify and collect some leaves. We will use these leaves for our botany felt board lesson later in the lesson.
When doing a search for books on botany for kids there is an abundance of choice out there and it can be difficult to decide which to choose. However, before making our first purchase, I found a wonderful resource from sugarspiceandglitter.com to assist in my investigation.
Here you will find a comprehensive list of books teaching kids the wonders of plants and nature for the conservationist parents among us. I particularly like the top choice, Enchanted Forest, as it not only involves nature but is also a coloring book, which will inspire the artist within any child.
Trees are the lifeblood of Mother Nature. They provide us and other animals with food, habitat, wood, paper, and, most importantly, their leaves make oxygen. They clean our air and make our environment a beautiful place. Countless artists, poets, and naturalists have been inspired by their elegance and charm.
Algae from the ocean produce about 80% of our oxygen
Though it is a myth to think without trees we would lose all of our oxygen supply, the trees, and plants that make up our forests and jungles house and feed millions of species of animals and are an integral part of life on our planet.
Our existence on Earth would be impossible if they were all to disappear. So, it is also an objective of this lesson to educate and raise awareness of the critical situation we find ourselves in due to the abuse of our trees and deforestation.
Types of trees
The kids will definitely be curious as to why there are so many different shapes and types of leaves. This is where I like to mention the fact that they all come from many different types of tree.
Trees are technical just plants with wood for tissue. There are two types, evergreen and deciduous. Evergreens have needles that are actually leaves. They have just evolved into this shape to endure the harsh climates of winter.
If you live in or near the desert, or just happen to have one at home, you can include a cactus in this lesson as well. Though not all appear similar to trees, some do and for kids, they are fun plants. Their needles have evolved in a similar way to the evergreens, out of necessity. Only their needles were formed because of an abundance of sun. Large surfaced leaves just wouldn’t work in the desert!
Then there are trees which lose their leaves in the winter, or deciduous. They are responsible for all the beautiful colors in fall. Many of the leaves from this activity come from deciduous trees so even if you just go to a city park, rather than a nature reserve, you’d do just fine.
Where we live in Spain, it’s quite arid so there isn’t much variety to our foliage. For tropical trees like palms and bananas, it’s a good idea to go to a local botanical garden. And as luck would have it, Valencia has a beautiful one right in the center of town. We literally can spend hours in there.
There are also a plethora of plants and flowers, which come in handy for the parts of the leaf and flower sections of the lesson. There are thousands of different trees in the world and mentioning them all here would take too much screen space. But keeping your tree lesson to indigenous species is definitely a good start.
The parts of a tree
As we just learned, there are many different types of trees, which means each has its own unique structure. But, when learning the parts of the tree we take a general approach.
Here you can see there are 6 parts for us to discuss: the crown, the leaves, twigs, branches, the trunk, and the roots.
The crown consists of the leaves, twigs, and branches of the tree and in some species, fruits, nuts, and cones. This is where the magic takes place within a tree. The leaves filter dust from the air, prevent noise from traveling far distances, reduce erosion by protecting the ground from raindrops and even cool temperatures by providing shade for hot and tired animals.
Twigs are the small branches, which grow the majority of leaves for the tree. Depending on the tree, they can be numerous and determine the shape and beauty of the tree.
The branches of trees serve many purposes. They are the conduits of water and nutrients obtained from the roots, they distribute twigs and leaves evenly and efficiently, they store excess sugar and make great swings for monkeys to play on.
The trunk is the body of the tree. It delivers the sugar and water from the roots to the whole tree; it stores the excess sugar like the branches and supports the crown. Depending on the size of the crown, which it needs to support, it can be slim and tall, like eucalyptus tree or short and thick like an oak tree.
The roots of a tree are responsible for both a biological and physical component of the tree. They stabilize the tree by growing deep into the soil and can be as large as the visible tree. They take water and nutrients from the soil as well and store water in case there are periods of little rainfall.
Other than making trees and plants the beautiful things they are, leaves serve quite an important purpose. Through photosynthesis, they provide the energy or food, which is necessary for a plant to live. Though they come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors; they are generally flat and broad and obtain their green color from chlorophyll.
Parts of the leaf
There are five parts of a leaf: The leaf margin (or edge), the blade (or lamina), the veins, the petiole, and the stipule. This is what each is responsible for:
This is a lobe-shaped structure, which grows at the base of the petiole. In some plants they simply fall off once the petiole has fully grown, on others, they serve as protection for it.
This structure looks a bit like a stalk and is what connects the leaf to the stem of the plant or the branch of a tree. It serves as a conduit from the stem to the leaf transferring water to the leaf and energy to the plant after photosynthesis, which we will discuss later.
Some leaves are directly connected to the stem and are called sessil leaves.
The veins are vascular tissue, which is made up of a midrib in the center of the blade, side veins, and small netted veins, depending on the type of leaf. They support the leaf and deliver food and water. Different leaves have different patterns depending on their shape.
Also known as the Lamina, it’s usually flat and wide in order to collect as much sunlight as possible. This is where the miracle happens: photosynthesis. Through this process, the plant is able to feed itself. It’s also where food is stored for later use.
This is the edge of the leaf and it’s determined by the species of plant. There are many different types and shapes and serve a different purpose in each species.
The types of leaves
Leaves are classified by a variety of features:
- The type of blade (simple or compound)
- The shape (Elliptical, Lanceolate, Linea, Ovate, Cordate)
- The presence or absence of a petiole or stalk
- The pattern of its veins (parallel, palmate or pinnate)
- The arrangement of the leaf on their stem (alternate, opposite, whorled or rosulate)
- The serration of its blade edges (smooth, sinuate, dentate, serrate or lobed).
The shapes of leaves
This is where we move on to the shapes of leaves felt board. We start with the shapes of leaves we have collected from our trip to the nature reserve. Depending on how many you have found, you match them to the Montessori 3-part cards we have in the set. If you’re unfamiliar with using 3-part cards, have a look at this article first.
This is a wonderful matching game for the kids, as sometimes the leaves look very similar. So getting the leaves and cards together may be a challenge.
Each type of leaf has a rather complex name so we tend to do this part of the lesson a couple of times, and only with the leaves, we have found. The other leaves we will hopefully find on another excursion. Probably to a different park as finding all the different shapes (there are 20 of them in the set) in one area can be difficult.
This chemical process is responsible for the majority of life on our planet. Without it we wouldn’t be here! It takes place in the blades of plants, algae, and some bacteria. They take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and water from the ground and convert it into glucose and oxygen using sunlight as an energy source.
The glucose is the food for the plants and the oxygen is a by-product, which is released into the atmosphere. Glucose is also needed to make other chemicals like starch for stored energy, proteins and fats to carry out specific life processes and growth.
Sketching: Take several different shapes of leaves and cover them with a piece of paper. Then have the kids use either pencils or crayons to sketch the outlines of the leaves. They can make some fun shapes and collages with the leaves.
Collages: get different shapes, colors and types of leaves and some construction paper and have the kids glue them on in different patterns. They can make a lot of fun pictures, especially in fall.
Clay nature scene: Take a piece of clay, flatten it out and add, plants, twigs, and leaves you have collected to make a nature scene. After it’s dried you can add animal figures to make the scene a little livelier.
Rain and cloud forests make up some of the most bio-diverse yet fragile ecosystems on the planet. Just to give you an example, while trekking in the Costa Rican outback, I came across a tree, which, according to my guide, had over 200 species of plants growing on it!
This completely amazed me and got me worried at the same time. Costa Rica is one of the few countries, which have strict laws about development within their nature. Without protection, these sensitive ecosystems could be wiped out in our generation. So it’s our job as parents to raise environmentally conscious children. Without them, our future on this planet may be short.
Doing our part
I’m going to finish up this article with a word on sustainability and ecological awareness. Passing on environmental values to our kids has never been more critical than it is today. I hope by teaching your little ones about the mysteries, beauty, and sensitivity of our environment and all the species of plant that depend on it that they will be inspired to do their part in keeping it clean and safe.
clean the beaches, oceans, forests, and parks
We need to recycle, plant trees and gardens, and most of all teach respect for the environment. When kids learn that we don’t live on this planet alone and that there is life outside the city limits we can encourage them to treat it better for the next generation.
- Weeding a garden
- Sowing seeds
- Watering plants
- Cleaning leaves in the yard
- Preparing food
- Making compost.
You should do as many of these as possible prior to working with felt boards or 3-part cards to ensure a sensorial impact on the kids first.