Last year when my seven-year-old told me he wanted to learn about and grow mushrooms, I was excited. This was something I could sink my teeth into. Though I’m a novice, I love plants and gardening, and mushrooms fascinate me. We see so many cool ones around here, and they never fail to excite me. My boys love looking at them too. So I was looking forward to learning about mushrooms alongside my son.
I had visions of learning how to identify mushrooms, creating a mushroom poster, and learning how to grow them at home. But I was a good PBH Mama. I didn’t mention any of that.
Instead, I sat down with my son and asked him what he wanted to know. This is what he said and how I wrote it down in our project journal:
Mushrooms — “I want to grow them in the house or in a terrarium.”
- Where are their spores?
- Are they made of spores?
- What are they made of?
- How do they grow?
“My idea is to crumble mushroom into a terrarium.”
We’ll experiment with layers of dirt and scraps from woods. Mushroom from outside, but we need to identify.
1) Learn about mushrooms –> books from library
2) My idea to use terrarium. (I gave him an old venus flytrap terrarium we had.)
Don’t worry if that doesn’t totally make sense to you. It doesn’t make sense to me either. I need to take better notes!
We checked out some books about mushrooms from the library, and when we got them home, my son enjoyed looking at the mushrooms in the field guides, but he wasn’t as interested in listening to me read about mushrooms. Despite the questions he asked, he mostly wanted to grow mushrooms. I knew his idea to crumble mushrooms into the terrarium would not work because I had looked up some videos on how to grow mushrooms for my own knowledge, and I showed him at least one video too.
I realized two things. 1) He wanted to do it his way, and I just needed to let him try that, and 2) growing mushrooms isn’t simple, but letting a seven-year-old try out his way of growing mushrooms is simple, and that’s what I needed to do anyway.
So, over a month or so, we tried some different things. I found a few notes I took in our project journal:
Sept. 13, 2013
He wants to chop mushrooms smaller and put under dirt. (Current project is very smelly.)
Later, I tried to sum up the few things we did in the journal. (I’m not very good at keeping this journal on a daily or even weekly basis, but I do manage to update it now and then.)
Oct. 8, 2013
We took old carnivorous plant terrarium with its dirt and added wood chips. (Because the seven-year-old knew that mushrooms needed a substrate.)
1) Bought button mushrooms, cut them up, put them on top of wood chips. We kept dome on and left it on front porch — they just rotted. We also put some of the mushrooms on leaf litter in the woods – nothing happened.
2) Seven-year-old found mushrooms with yellow caps in yard. [Since we're not sure which mushrooms are poisonous and which are not, we never touch wild mushrooms with our hands. My son managed to gather these using two small sticks.] He put that in the pot and left dome off. They were gone in the morning. We think squirrels got them!
3) We bought Bunapi mushrooms at Dekalb Farmer’s Market. 2 days in refrigerator. We put them in terrarium, left dome on, and we’re keeping it inside house. Mist with water.
Unfortunately, my notes stop there, but nothing ever happened with those mushrooms either. Eventually the terrarium ended up back in the garage, and my son’s other interests kept taking precedence.
However, something serendipitous happened! During the summer we were given some sundew seeds to try to grow. Remember my son’s carnivorous plant project? We kept them in a little cup with another plastic cup over it because it needed to stay wet and humid inside. Though the sundew never grew, we did find this one day when we were checking them! It was unintentional, but we did grow a mushroom!
For a long time, I thought this project was a bust. I felt like I did something wrong because he didn’t pursue it further, but actually I did ask him about it, and he didn’t seem interested in pursuing it further. That’s actually the whole point in project-based homeschooling: you let the child decide when he’s finished with a project. As I began looking back over this year to create an end-of-the-year review and write some of these end-of-the-year blog posts, I realized that we did, indeed, do a mushroom project. It just didn’t look like how I envisioned it would be.
Trying something and failing at it is one of the best ways of learning. Deciding not to pursue it further is a worthy decision. Though my son may not be able to identify the mushrooms that grow in our yard, and he doesn’t know how to grow mushrooms, he has actually learned quite a lot about mushrooms. He’s learned everything he’s wanted to learn about them. At least for now.
When I realized I needed to write this blog post, I thought I would ask my son one more time. He was standing next to my desk as I was looking at some of the photos we had taken of his mushroom experiments.
“Do you remember how you wanted to grow mushrooms?”
“Do you want to do anything more with that?”
“No.” A definite shake of the head. He walked away.
As I’ve written, learning is like a chain-link fence. We build our knowledge one link at a time; it expands and grows in different directions. My son has several links in his knowledge about mushrooms. If it ever matters to him again, he can build onto that knowledge, but it won’t mean much unless he wants to learn about it.
I think it’s neat that he had an idea, and he tried it. That’s what I want to encourage. Questions. Curiosity. Getting excited about attempting things he doesn’t know.
As for me, I know that if I want to, I could do my own mushroom project. I could learn how to identify and grow them and share my interest with my boys, but as it turns out, all I really want to do is take photographs of them. So, for fun, I’m sharing my photographs of mushrooms here with you in this slideshow. Aren’t they beautiful and amazing?!
What are you learning about today?