Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Botany, Ecology, and Latin at the UCSC Arboretum

Botany is not a subject one commonly thinks of grade-school-aged children studying. Yet, children are fascinated by nature. They love smelling flowers, touching leaves, watching bugs, rolling in the grass. Why wait until they are in their teens or even older before introducing them to the wonders of our world?

A good place to experience the wonders of plants is the UCSC Arboretum. Admission is free the first Tuesday of the month, and not very much the rest of the time.

The Arboretum highlights native plants of California, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. The diversity is surprising! And the colors are spectacular. I always take loads of pictures of plants I would love for my garden, knowing that everything there is drought-tolerant and low maintenance.

My eldest son likes discovering plants with unique names, while my youngest is always on the lookout for the colony of roly-polies that is always so busy.

For more field trip ideas,
check out GHF's Virtual Field Trips page.
But how do we incorporate the Arboretum into our homeschooling? There are the basics for the younger set: counting plants, naming colors, using descriptive words, investigating through smell and touch. Many of the plants have tags with both the Latinate and common names, so older children can read the tags. Those doing Latin (and even those not) can discuss the origin of the Latinate name. Of course, since the Arboretum displays plants from three continents, geography comes into play. Ecology is introduced with the discussion of why these plants are better for our gardens than other, thirstier varieties. What children (and plenty of adults) find interesting is figuring out why plants look the way they do. Why is one flower so different from another? Why do they bloom at different times? Why does this bush best grow under that tree? Why does this plant look like a rock? Just what are those roly-polies doing?

Regardless of what you discuss while ambling around the gardens, you are bound to come away refreshed and intrigued. Oh, and don’t forget to stop by Norrie’s Gift Shop on the way out, where you can purchase gardening books, native plants, and unique gifts for family and friends.

Article by Sarah J. Wilson

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