In my homeschooling journey, we read a LOT of books. We use other things, too, such as videos or YouTube channels, field trips, hands-on projects and handicrafts, classes, and nature. But, until high school (and even then, only for specific subjects), we don’t use textbooks. However, it is really hard to find good living books about plants. The ones we found tended to be in the five categories I’m going to talk about in a bit. They were wonderful books, but did not always fill our science needs. So, why use them?
Why you should (try to) use living books about plants
You learn about plants within context
You might not learn a ton of science, but at least you get a sense of where that plant grows and why it’s important. Just like people, they live somewhere and the same plant can take on different characteristics depending on where in the world it grows. Of course, different habitats contain different plants. And, certain plants have shaped history while others’ uses and importance have gone out of fashion. So, learning about plants within an historical or biographical context helps us better understand our own relationship with them.
More interesting and memorable
One of the reasons we like reading living books as much as possible is that information is retained better through story. A good story is far more interesting and memorable than a textbook. However, many “living books” about plants are barely disguised textbooks. They are what I would call conversational textbooks, even the short, illustrated ones for kids. Using true living books about plants weaves plants into a story, a story which they will remember. Accompany that with some hands-on projects such as a pizza garden or hydroponics lab, and you’re good!
5 Wonderful Ways to Use Living Books About Plants
Living books about plants tend to fall into one of these five categories: biographies, historical insight, odd facts, introductory, fable/allegory. Let’s see how each of these types can be used to learn more about plants.
Ever hear of George Washington Carver and his peanuts? How about Gregor Mendel and his peas? Biographies about people who experimented with plants, naturalists who catalogued and drew plants, and others give us a glimpse into another’s passion for green, growing things. We learn about plant-related professions, about discoveries and uses, and get inspired by another’s life work. And this is my favorite way to use biographies to teach about plants, inspiration. Reading about another’s research and adventures opens the door to a desire to do the same. It encourages a young child’s imagination to think, I wonder what other secrets have yet to be discovered?
Think of it. The quest for a shorter route for the spice trade led to the discovery of a whole new continent. Spices. Spices come from plants, seeds mostly. So, one could say that plants drove men to risk their lives. Sugar cane and cotton led to the enslavement of millions of people. Chocolate and coffee have left a similar fingerprint on history. How about the opium poppy, potatoes, tea, and a whole bunch of others? And let’s not forget the role of famines. Plants have, in one way or another, played a large role in the world’s history. Reading living books about plants and their role in different historical events gives us a new understanding and appreciation for them. These books, too, helps gain insight into the uses (and misuses) of plants.
Living books about plants include odd facts
These types of books have fun trivia. They are living books because they offer facts through short anecdotal stories or a “Did you know that…” type of format. They usually include a lot of photos or illustrations, too. These types of books don’t talk down to the reader and they are interesting to read, kind of like an Usborne book. I like fun trivia type plant books because they often include little known facts that shock and surprise. Just the type of book middle school boys like! Use these books to stir up that sense of wonder and the thrill of knowing things that almost no one else does. Kids love to stump the adults and books like Wicked Plants, the Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother offer just the thing.
Introduction to plants
A whole lot of living books about plants fall into this category. You know what I’m talking about. These are the Let’s Read and Find Out Science and Magic School Bus type books. These are great for young children to introduce them to the basic concepts of how seeds grow and the life cycle of a plant. They do a nice job of trying to weave the facts into a story. And, they are written at a reading level that younger children can understand. I used these when my children were about age 5-7 years. The only problem I have with them is that they aren’t very inspiring and the plant kingdom is not that simple. And, sometimes these types of books are about as far as kids get when it comes to learning about plants. Kids are capable of understanding more than the basics.
Fable or Allegory
Have you ever heard of The Tale of the Three Trees or the Giving Tree? These books fall into the fable/allegory category of living books about plants. While they don’t necessarily teach factual information about plants, they certainly unfold truths. These types of books can also help children understand difficult Biblical truths and character traits of God. I like to use these books to stir my children’s imaginations, to help them see things from a new perspective, and to teach important truths. These types of books can also spark a deep love and compassion for Creation. And because I love fantasy and fable, I personally enjoy reading these books over and over again.
Check out my Biblical allegory, The Secret Spice, featuring a very special spice.