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Train Children to Hunt, Forage, and Identify Plants

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Jenny Underwood
Time outdoors should be an everyday occurrence

Our world has never introduced more technology into our individual lives, offering our children so many roadblocks to natural learning. That’s why it’s so important that parents make a concentrated effort to train our children in almost-forgotten skills of plant identification, foraging and harvesting wild game.

Not only do traditional skills provide learning that cannot be attained elsewhere, but they also provide a level of self-sufficiency that too many people lack in our modern U.S. culture.  So how do you go about skilling-up of your children?

Make the Outdoors and Plant Identification Part of Daily Life

First off, it’s important to make the wild outdoors a regular part of your life. We homeschool and it’s just an accepted part of our routine that a huge portion of the day will be spent outside. While some of it might be semi-structured, most of the outdoors-related learning is integrated into daily life.

For example, when my children are playing beneath a tree, we always tell them the tree species. After doing this multiple times, they memorize it and I overhear the older ones telling the younger siblings what kind of tree that is. As we walk through the woods on a nature hike during mornings, I might quiz them on the trees we pass. It’s not an intensive “test”; just a fun addition to our walk.

We might discuss different aspects of trees that help us identify them easily, especially during winter. One way my husband got our 7-year-old son to remember muscle-wood was to make a muscle and tell him “strong muscle-wood”.  Now every time he sees this tree, he makes a muscle and says strong muscle-wood!

Foraging Everyday Edibles in the Yard

Foraging in our family starts when our kids are tiny. We teach them what foods are safe in our yard, including clover, wood sorrel and wild garlic. They take great pride in eating “weeds” and get so tickled when guests get alarmed at what they’re eating. Unfortunately, many adults do not know edible from non-edibles.

This knowledge comes in very handy when one of my little ones gets a bee sting and an older one grabs plantain, mashes it up and applies it to the sting. My older son, 10, laughingly says he loves eating his fresh salad every day, which consists of wood sorrel, clover, wild garlic and violet flowers. If you aren’t familiar with plants, there are many excellent field guides (Peterson Field Guides are a favorite) available — you can learn right along with your kids.

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Image Jenny Underwood

The author’s son completes a successful beaver hunt. Teaching hunting skills fosters a respect for food sources.

Teaching Children Hunting Skills

Hunting is a huge part of our family and not only do our children take part in the hunt, they also help to process and prepare the animal for eating.

We don’t have to worry about them not knowing where food (or meat) comes from. In doing so, they gain a respect that is sadly lacking in society. We allow them to help with skinning, gutting and quartering meat as soon as they’re physically capable.

Our oldest has a tremendous sense of pride that he helps completely process his own deer and turkeys. He then likes to help experiment in the kitchen with his harvest. If you aren’t familiar with processing your own animals, I would recommend getting a good video series on butchering or simply going to a friend’s and offer to help in exchange for gaining skills.

Patience and Perseverance

Anytime you are working with children, there are bound to be plenty of mistakes, messes and redo’s. Try to be patient and keep diligently training them each day in the natural skills. Remember, they’ll clean and a day spent outdoors is always worth the extra work it may bring. Yes, its quicker to just do it yourself, but they’ll never forget that you took the time to teach them!

Not only will your children learn useful skills when they learn to identify plants, forage and harvest wild animals for food, but they will also help to preserve a heritage that is too quickly becoming rare. In doing so, they will build a healthy foundation for the rest of their life that includes physical activity in the outdoors and a hands-on practical knowledge that can never be taken from them.

Jenny Underwood is a homeschooling mom of four who lives in a fifth-generation homestead in the Missouri Ozarks, where she gardens, forages, hunts and preserves food for her family. Connect with Jenny at Our Inconvenient Family, and read all of her GRIT blog posts here.

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Published on Apr 25, 2021

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