Last spring, my son had developed a love of mushrooms. It started at the kitchen table as a favorite food but soon morphed into noticing different varieties in the woods on our daily walks. We started taking pictures of the mushrooms so I joined a lichen, mushroom, and fungus facebook group and started to see the beauty in these tiny fruiting bodies from the perspective of citizen mycologists from around the globe. Before long, we had fallen into the fungus rabbit hole with endless searches for lion’s mane and hen of the woods, using our knowledge of trees to find various types, learning to make spore prints, taking out friends to learn and search with and learning to forage for edible mushrooms.
Fungus is a network that acts as a lifeline connecting all living things through it’s symbiotic relationship with tree roots and microorganisms. It clears away the dead, making room for new life while simultaneously providing a network to trees and plants through endless threads of mycelium. We only see a fraction of the miracle that is occurring beneath the soil to keep the planet teeming with life. We can see the fruiting bodies or mushrooms above ground while scientists are only beginning to understand how the mycorrhizal network works as the underpinning of life on earth.
We read about mushrooms, learned how to cook several, sketched and labeled and logged many finds, and dehydrated foraged mushrooms for the spring. We learned about many of the medicinal uses for various types that had been used throughout time by indigenous groups in the Americas. We were able to incorporate literature, science, art and history into our mushroom study.
The more we read about fungus, the more mushrooms we were able to see in the forest or just out on a walk around the block in my densely populated suburban neighborhood. My son started using identification apps like inaturalist and began contributing to them from his own finds and research. Through our personal study he was able to see himself as a citizen scientist who has the skills and confidence to know how to learn more.
I had zero knowledge of fungus and how incredibly spectacular and important it is until I was this many years old, right now. We tell our kids that they can learn anything and so can you. Whatever your child’s passion, you can learn right along with them. Learning together and seeing your parents learning and being vulnerable to not knowing the answer is a powerful lesson in itself for children.