“Mama look what I found!” my daughter exclaimed as she ran towards me. Her little hands were carefully cupped around something special. She came to a halting stop in front of me and gently opened her hands. My young child had picked a beautiful pink hyacinth from our garden. “Oh!” I blurted out, a mixture of surprise and disappointment whirling inside me. Together we had watched this flower sprout and slowly unfurl. Now the perfect bloom rested in her hands. I quickly tried to school my expression but it was too late. My young child knew that she had done something very wrong. She had picked a flower.
Don’t Pick Flowers Ever!
If every child picks a flower, there will none left to anyone else appreciate!
There’s this belief that children should never pick flowers. That all flowers are sacrosanct, too beautiful for children to touch, pick or handle. Yes, flowers are beautiful and we all want to enjoy them but we’ve forgotten one important fact: children connect with nature when they have the freedom to touch and interact with it. Children need to pick flowers, hold worms, squish mud, catch butterflies, break sticks and smash rocks to learn about how the natural world works. Children will never learn how to care for flowers without having the chance to pick and play with them.
Will children really destroy nature by picking flowers?
It’s painful to see natural areas destroyed, but this destruction isn’t caused by flower picking children. This destruction is the result of adults, young and old, who have never learned how to care for nature. Banning children from picking flowers won’t prevent destruction of nature. In fact, preventing kids from picking flowers and interacting with nature may inadvertently cause children to have no interest in nature at all, or to fear nature, and these children will grow into adults that don’t care about nature. Nature is surprisingly resilient and can handle children picking a handful of flowers, where and when it’s appropriate.
Are all flowers created equal?
“Wow! Look at this flower!” my son exclaimed. He was crouched over a beautiful pink bitteroot bloom, a plant considered by many indigenous tribes as sacred. “That is such a beautiful flower!” I agreed. “We should leave this flower here,” he stated very matter-of-factly.
Some flowers, like the bright yellow dandelion, are very common and children should be encouraged to collect them by armfuls. Other flowers, like the yellow golden paintbrush, are endangered and should be left alone. Not all flowers are created equal but everyone (even kids!) can learn which flowers are good to pick, where to pick them and when to pick them. Learning about flowers and picking them is a wonderful opportunity for you and your child to connect with nature together.
How to learn about flowers:
- Purchase or borrow a book about flowers native to your area.
- Download a flower identification phone app.
- Visit an interpretive garden (here’s an example).
- Learn about flowers from friends, family and experts like gardeners, naturalists and park rangers.
Wait! What about sensitive ecosystems, community parks and public gardens?
The truth is picking flowers is not an all-or-nothing affair. Your neighbour might not be impressed if your kids suddenly started picking all their flowers and the community gardener might get frustrated if all the tulips disappear overnight. There is definitely a time and place to let our kids pick flowers but there are probably more opportunities for flower picking then you might think.
When NOT to pick flowers:
- Avoid picking flowers in areas with sensitive or vulnerable ecosystems. Most sensitive areas will have signs posted that say “please do not pick flowers”. This is often the case in provincial, state and national parks. It’s important to respect those signs. If there are no signs and you’re unsure err on the side of caution (don’t pick flowers) until you get more information about the area.
- Avoid picking flowers from private properties, private gardens or community gardens unless you ask for permission. You may be surprised by how many people are willing to let children pick a few flowers when asked.
- Avoid picking flowers that are poisonous or have been recently sprayed with herbicide or pesticide.
Yes! Let your child pick flowers
I will never forget the moment my daughter brought me that beautiful pink hyacinth years ago. She was so excited and I shamed her for doing something perfectly normal and natural. If your child inadvertently picks a flower, even if it’s from somewhere they really shouldn’t have, don’t shame or blame them. Instead, share in their joy and excitement, show them how to care for that beautiful flower and gently point out which flowers they can pick instead. Nature is amazing and we should delight in our children’s sense of wonder.
How to encourage kids to pick flowers:
- Identify flowers that are native and invasive to your area and point out which flowers are best for picking.
- Plant flowers with your child that they can pick.
- Teach your child how to cut flowers and place them in a vase so they last longer.
- If there are no flowers to pick buy some cut flowers for your child to play with.
- Encourage your child to play with flowers by making:
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