If you haven't yet checked out our kids guide to winter plant identification, it's a great place to start. There we stressed the importance of not only looking at plants to identify them during winter, but continuing to look at them over the course of the year, and, if possible, in the same location to really emphasize change over time.
This time of year, the most eye-catching development in the natural world is all of the color blossoming around us. Continue or start a nature journal and log observations to see just how many different blooming plants surround you this spring.
Plant and flower identification is not just about fostering an eye for detail or knowing one plant from the next to stay safe outdoors—it's also about expanding plant vocabulary. Here we put a little more emphasis on how to use flower identification methods and resources to help your child expand their vocabulary (at home and in the garden) as they hone their observational skills and learn about the colorful diversity in the great outdoors—wildflowers and garden bulbs alike!
Learn Flower Names
Identifying flowers with your young ones is a process that will help them develop skills in sorting, naming and understanding the world around them. For example, they'll not only learn that flowers are different than trees, but that daisies are different than tulips. Identifying flowers promotes high attention to detail as each unique array of petals adds a new flower name to remember. To comprehend that one flower should have a different name from the next is to suggest that they are different in some way and yet still both flowers. You can help your child with this process by discussing the similarities and differences they notice from one flower to the next by looking at pictures or flowers in your own backyard.
There are a number of learning resources to help with this outside of a walk in your own garden or nearby trails. Maria Montessori's educational methods identify the innate interest that children have for learning the names of things. She created a learning method that removes the need for the adult to tell them, but allows for them to check their answer using notecards. Here is a great printable document designed for using Montessori's method for flower names.
The family memory game is also a great way to integrate a similar method in this beautifully illustrated card game for your entire family to enjoy. This game will draw on pattern identification and memorization skills, all while learning more about the differences between flowers you'll see outside this spring!
Keep a Flower Journal
Keeping a nature journal or notebook will help your child tune their eye for the detail in the natural world around them. It also provides a workspace for them to practice their descriptive skills.
Encourage your child to draw pictures, create diagrams and write detailed sentences or labels as they develop their skills in the language arts. Having a space to write down what they see will not only give them a place to refer back to when it comes to comparing one plant to another, but it will also help them develop the very skills required to identify a plant or flower. To see the detail is to be able to describe the detail!
Finally, journaling gives them an opportunity to own their observations--it's their journal. Help them cherish it by encouraging them to fill the pages, share them with you and perhaps even decorate the cover!
While it's nice to separate from technology and put our phones away when we're in nature, handheld devices can be very useful on a nature walk or hike when it comes to identifying flowers. If time does not allow for you and your child to sit in one spot and draw or write about your observations, a camera is the perfect solution.
Take a nature walk with your camera or smartphone and have your young one take pictures of all of the flowers they see. You can print these to add to their journal or simply keep them in digital space for reference. Capturing a photo allows for the same moment to be observed time and time again, so rather than simply noticing major changes over time, you'll be able to notice greater detail each time you look back. Having a photo is a great way to ensure you accurately identify the flower if referencing a field guide at home.
With the photos on hand you can create some fun tasks or games for your child to work with. They can make similarity and difference lists referencing photos. With a large stack of photos you can also encourage your child to do a photo sort where they create their own piles and categories based on the characteristics of the flowers that they notice.
Notice Defining Characteristics
Once you're looking at flowers in nature or the photos and observations you and your child recorded along the way, the path to naming begins by categorizing the plant by some major defining characteristics. What color were the petals? How many petals were there? What geometry did the array of petals have? Was it symmetrical or asymmetrical? There are a number of practically applied math concepts hidden in plant and flower identification.
Of course, any of these questions can be asked in the field or garden, as long as you're carrying your field guide. Most field guides and identification resources are designed to help you think through this process. We recommend carrying a small field guide for local flora with you—they generally start with a series of questions to help narrow your results down. Here is a great online link to identifying wildflowers using this exact sorting method.
Leverage App Technology
At the end of the day, there are a number of excellent iPhone and Android applications available that will identify the flower you're looking at right on the spot. Some of them require some kind of subscription, but others are completely free and require only access to your camera and photos.
These applications range from creating a log (similar to your nature/flower journal or notebook) with a login, to simply identifying the flower you're looking at—allowing you to keep record in your log in a separate notebook. Some will identify the flower with a photo (like Seek by iNaturalist) while others will require you to answer a series of identifying characteristic questions (What's that Flower? app for Android). Another application, PlantNet, is a combination of both, where you upload a photo and answer a series of identifying characteristic questions that properly identify the plant.
Sure, these might be intended to replace field guides and the weight of a physical journal. They're time saving, and, let's face it, the wonder of a touch screen and the ability for the technology to produce accurate information is engaging for children and adults alike. However, the value of a hand-kept log to help cultivate your child's creativity, ownership, organization skills and attention to detail should not be overlooked. Use these apps in accordance with helping them keep their own log to get all of the benefits of flower identification fun!
Know What's Common
Lastly, depending on your area and the time of year, you're going to see a variety of different blossoms. Along with learning the flower names and venturing out to observe and identify the plants, it will be helpful to hone in on specific flowers that are common to your area and time of year. Here is a list of common flowering plants for early spring, and here is a resource where you can type in your own coordinates to see wildflowers common to your area to help you tune your child's eye for the flowering plants right in your own backyard!
READ THIS NEXT: Kids Guide to Winter Plant Identification