Now that the weather is nice, and the water has receded from the spring flood, we have been able to take groups of 5 kindergarten students to the forest behind our school every day for about an hour. It’s a wonderful way to start the day, especially when the temperature is hovering around 24 degrees Celsius.

I told the Dragonfly group it was their turn today. They checked that they had proper footwear (usually rubber boots, but if it’s dry, we make sure they have running shoes rather than sandals at this time of year, because there is poison ivy along the trails). After a quick visit to the bathroom, they were ready to leave. As we left the school yard, I let them run across the field behind the school and wait for me up ahead at the soccer goal posts. That way, they got some energy used up so that they wouldn’t feel like bolting along the trails in the forest.

Before we entered the gate to the forest from the bike path, I got them to prepare themselves as Nature Detectives, making sure their eyes, ears and noses were switched on. (I like the way a colleague of mine tells her students to use their ‘Rabbit Ears” and “Deer Eyes” when they are outdoors observing). Touching and tasting are not permitted in the forest, which is a nationally protected bird sanctuary, although not picking up sticks is really hard for some students. Generally, if it doesn’t change the landscape, a twig or leaf occasionally may get moved from one place to the other by some students but they know to leave empty handed, because we are “observers not disturbers” in the forest.

Due to the prevalence of the poison ivy, plant identification is really important so that the students are aware but not afraid to venture into the forest. “Leaves of three – let them be” is the helpful rhyme which many have used to stay clear of the nasty effects this noxious weed can produce (not a sting, more like a blistering burn which can last days and be serious enough to require hospitalization for those who are particularly sensitive to the toxic oil). Once informed however, students can make better choices about how they access a forested or natural environment, rather than simply avoiding it. So lately, my groups have been learning about different 3-leaved plants which are commonly found along trails – poison ivy, wild strawberry and purple clover. This is what our kindergarten students noticed;

Poison Ivy

Toxicodendron radicans

poison ivy

Wild Strawberry

Fragaria vesca

 wild strawberry

Purple Clover

(also called Red Clover)

Trifolium pratense

purple clover


  • 3 leaves
  • shiny
  • pointy
  • 3 leaves
  • ‘teeth’ around each leaf
  • pointy
  • 3 leaves
  • white smudge in middle of leaf
  • rounded, not pointy


  • low to the ground at the side of a trail
  • NOT a bush or a tree
  • same
  • same



  • Bunches of tiny white flowers (too many to count)

How to Identify Poison Ivy

  • A few white flowers (you can count them, i.e., not too many on a plant blooming at the same time)
  • Single purple flower “like a ball” rising above the plant


Can you touch it?





  • Food for birds and animals but NOT people
  • Food for people, birds and animals
  • Can eat the fruit
  • Food for people and animals
  • Can make tea with the leaves and flowers

As we walked along, someone would point to a plant and ask, “Is this poison ivy?”, and other students would reply, “No. It’s too tall,” “There are too many leaves,” or, “Yep. The leaves are shiny.” Now, apart from helping them to respect the ‘do not touch’ rule, students have started to look for different characteristics on plants, understanding that the forest is more than just a mess of green, and that each plant has a name and a special role to play.



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