The most mushrooms can be seen in autumn. It’s the perfect time to investigate fungus with kids during nature study! The Fungus Kingdom has around four million species. Fungi are not plants, but they keep plants going! Fungi feed most of our plants. Their hyphae (sprout from the spores) grow into fine plant roots that take up water and nutrients from the soil, and feed it to the roots. Many people think that fungi are plants. Fungus in fact have their own ‘Kingdom’. Fungi obtain their food from other sources, generally dead plant or animal materials. My favorite book to introduce kids to fungus is Fungus is Among Us.
Fungi and trees:
Peter Wohlleben is one of my favorite foresters to learn about trees. I’ve recommended his book The Hidden Lives of Trees to many adults, but his kids version Can you Hear the Trees Talking? is another resource I highly recommend! When investigating fungus with kids it’s important for them to understand that trees and fungus work together. Fungi help trees by cleaning up and warding off other types of fungi that would make the tree sick. Trees feed the fungi lots of their sugar for their services!
Mycelium is a network or collection of roots (hyphae) that stretches underground in search of food and water. The hyphae soak up the food molecules to communicate with each other. Hyphae swap food, water, and messages with tree roots. The fungi need the sugar to stay alive, but also to produce their fleshy fruit: a mushroom!
A mushroom is similar to the flower or fruit of a flowering plant. It is called a fruit body. Spores are made in fungus fruit bodies gills and released. The veil is the thin skin that protects the mushroom as it pushes up through the soil. Mushrooms then produce spores, which float away in the air to produce new fungus elsewhere.
How to investigate Fungus during Nature study:
On this week’s nature walk, take a good look around your special nature spot for fungus and mushrooms. They grow everywhere, not just in typical woodlands. I’ve found a ton in my own suburban neighborhood! Take your time and look around. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how many you might find!
When Investigating Fungus with kids:
- Choose a fungus, and sketch it in your nature journal. Use your field guide resources to see if you can identify it and label the parts.
- Add information about where you found it, was it growing on anything, did you see more of the same fungus?
- If you know for sure that it’s safe to touch the fungus then smell it and make a note of what it smells like.
- What does it feel like? Is it wet or slimy? Or, soft and velvety?
Take the time to make notes when investigating fungus with kids during nature study
Be cautious when investigating Fungus with kids:
Don’t eat a mushroom unless you’re certain it’s an edible species. Be sure to wash your hands after touching any fungus! You can always use your magnifying glass to look at it closely without touching it!