A child is never too young to understand the potential and wonder of healing herbs. Any four year old can be taught how to identify plants and the common names. Just think how many animals a preschooler can recognize. There is a sense of mystery, magic, and independence that comes when a kid learns plants are medicine. When an adult shares knowledge, modeling, curiosity and passion through simple daily interactions it feels very natural to children. Like any value or worldview that gets passed onto the young- the more often exposure, the more that will be retained and use in later life. Pretend play, crafts, sensory exploration, and reading stories are all beloved. memorable activities for the child who learns with all of the senses.
I recommend close supervision and common sense with all of these activities.
Rainbow Extractions-can be made from herbs combined with food coloring. A mortar and pestle along with all manner of jars and bottles can be added to stock a child’s herbal pharmacy.
Mud Kitchens can bake cupcakes make from mud and fresh herbs. I used dandelion, violet, oregano, chive blossom, strawberry flowers, feverfew, sage flower, lady’s mantle, yarrow, lilac, primrose, lemon balm. Have a chef instead of a baker? Make a setup for street tacos using large leaves, “fillings” gathered from the yard, a spice bottle/salt shaker with dried herbs, a small squeeze bottle filled with a pesto like sauce. Sushi and nori rolls can also be a possibility. It is never too early to model the idea that healing can come in the form of food.
Sensory Bins-can be made with many things. Start with a large plastic bin or tub that is full of water, beans, or rice. Next add small cloth garden gloves, empty seed packets, tiny clay pots, child’s watering can, plastic bugs, wooden popsicle sticks to label your herbs, artificial plants and garden tools for kids like a shovel or trowel. If you add in a wooden mortar and pestle or containers children can enact the whole process from seed to harvest and product.
Fairy Houses-are very popular at my house even though my kids have grown so much. My girls like to act out scenes with fairies healing each other creatures with herbs. . If you are familiar with the series Warriors by Erin Hunter you will understand the world and importance of medicine cats. We have a whole set up of tiny cats, dens, etc. in my house that gets hours of use. Artificial flowers, real plants, shells, glass stones, pods/pinecones/bark, clay pots, toy fairies, and all manner of resin houses/doors/decor to be arranged over and over.
Tea parties and cookies made with herbs along with child friendly tea like mint ,are the perfect way explore their healing properties in food. Herbs can be used in all kinds of baked goods and frosting. For savory dishes you experiment using them in dips, spreads and fillings for high tea toast and sandwiches.
Animal Healers-appear in many picture books as a gnome or tomten character that supports the well being of animals in the forest. A hat, a cape, a pouch, a toy doctor kit is all you need to outfit your child for furry patients.
Apothecary shop-is inspired by something I did years ago with my girls. I purchased a bunch of wooden containers and odds n’ ends from a company that sells machined wood products . Perfect for the little herbalist to grind herbs or fill with imaginary salves and tinctures. A small medicine cabinet makes for ideal storage.
Herb Poppet or Healing Gnome-here is a link to the tutorial for making this toy
Smell Jars-are a Montessori inspired activity that is perfect for toddlers. Fresh herbs are best and caution must be used for dry herbs that could be over inhaled or gotten into the eyes. Many spices are warming and could cause a burning sensation. Model taking a light sniff to avoid problems. Place aromatic dried spices or fresh herbs in a jar and seal with a tight fitting lid. After a hour open the jar and instruct your child to inhale lightly. What do they smell ? How would they describe it? Do they like the smell? Are some jars more preferred that others? Etc. Many medicinal herbs have a unique smell that is key to their identification. Being able to identify a plant by smell alone is a useful skill set.
Play Dough -this link takes you to a recipe for hibiscus and lemon play dough with a non-edible salt dough base. It has a great texture and lovely smell. A fun activity to make with your child in the kitchen.
Sensory Bins-are basically a large container filled with beans, grains, sand or water. Objects are placed/buried in the bin for a child to discover, explore or use their imagination to play with. My girls loved these when they were small. We had a garden themed one that could be adapted for medicinal herbs. Items that would be fun to include are kid sized cloth garden gloves, empty seed packets, small clay pots, a child’s watering can, plastic bugs, wooden popsicle sticks to label your herbs, artificial plants, and garden tools for kids like a shovel or trowel.
Scavenger Hunts-can come in all kinds of forms. From words written on a piece of paper to objects sorted into an egg carton. As the item is found it is crossed off the list/grid or put in the carton. This could also be a simple sorting exercise. Categories can be chosen based on the age of the child. Themes could be 1) plants that smell or have interesting textures. 2)leaf shape or type of flower 3) How the leaf are arrangement on the stem or the venation pattern. For older children you could try matching the herb to organ system that it supports.
Herb Bracelet or crown-starts with a piece of tape secured around the wrist or forehead with the sticky side facing out. The child is encouraged to explore a natural area like a garden or walking trail. As he/she finds and identifies a medicinal herb, a leaf is attached to their bracelet or crown as a record and decoration.
Herb Pounding-begins by placing herbs “face” down onto a new 100% cotton pillow case or sheet. It is best to pre-wash it in hot water with ONLY standard detergent. Carefully cover the specimens with wide packing tape. Choose leaves of different shapes, sizes and shades of green. Add in flowers of various colors until you have a pleasing composition. Plants that are not too bulky or full of fluid are best. Less is better than more with a minimum of layering. Cover the herbs with sheets of copy or wax paper. You can tape these down if you wish. Pound over the the specimens one time. Remove the paper and tape. Iron both sides of the textile on medium heat to set the pigments. Crayola crayons or colored pencils can be used to clarify edges or fill in missing spots. Your lovely results can be turned into an apron or small sleep pillows full of calming herbs. Wash in cold water when needed. Multiple washings may remove the die.
Herb provocation- will look familiar if you have done this familiar Reggio Emilia activity with a child. Several objects are left out in an intentional group for a child to discover and explore on their own. The purpose is to encourage further thought and interaction related to the objects or theme ( herbal medicine). For my provocation I chose scissors, an empty spice bottle, a magnifying glass, an empty tin, a mortar/pestle, a funnel, a tincture bottle with water, a tea bag, loose dry herbs and a wooden apothecary set. I picked herbs that had interesting textures or distinct smells. What will the child do with these things?
Herb Rubbings-give results based on the type of crayon chosen and will depend on the age or attention span of the child. Place a leaf on a hard surface with the backside facing up towards you. Cover it with paper. Rub the crayon across the surface to pick up the shape and pattern of veins. High quality crayons that have been sharpened work best. Small, tight circles are better than broad, straight strokes. Taping the leaf down at the stem may help some kids. You can experiment with taping the paper down or holding it in place with the non dominant hand. A single leaf per page may be easier for very young children to manage. To fill a whole page just replace the leaf and reposition the paper. Rubbings can be labeled. Leaf shape and venation are better botanical features to study over the characteristics of flowers.
Herb Stampings– start by painting the backside of a leaf with acrylic paint. Turn it over and press it onto the paper like a stamp. Lift carefully and enjoy the results. You can also do this activity on textiles if you do not plan on washing them often.
I will be updating this post on a regular basis and adding new ideas . So check back often for inspiration.