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Mushroom Hunt

Mushrooms are nature's unsung caretakers and are immensely important to the ecosystem of our planet. Mushrooms and fungi are super recyclers, breaking down waste and returning it to the earth. Plants rely on fungi to provide valuable nutrients to the soil that can be taken up by their roots. Many animals rely partially or fully on fungi as a food source. And, the extensive network of mycelium (the part of the mushroom that grows beneath the soil) serves as a communication web, helping many species of trees and plants to pass messages to one another critical to survival. 

Mushrooms also come in a variety of beautiful shapes, colors and sizes and once you start looking for them, it’s hard not to get hooked! Introducing kids to the wonderful world of mushrooms is a super way to support focus skills and add a sense of purpose and adventure to your family hikes. Not all mushrooms are safe for consumption though, so it’s important to follow a few simple guidelines to make the whole family feel confident during a mushroom hunt. In this activity, we share a few tips for heading out on a family mushroom hunt. 

The Guide

Learn about mushrooms: Look through photos of mushroom varieties in an app like inaturalist. You can search for mushrooms by area to see photos of fungi that grow near you. We also recommend the film Fantastic Fungi for your next family movie night! Shorter clips of the movie can also be found online for viewing with kids with or without sound.

Head out for a mushroom hunt! Head outside with a magnifying glass to search for mushrooms growing in your yard, park or neighborhood. Bring a camera to document what you find. Or, invite kids to bring a notebook and writing utensils to draw what they see. Notice the different shapes and colors of the mushrooms you discover. Look closely at the top and underside (where the gills are). If mushrooms are abundant in your area, challenge kids to find one of each color of the rainbow!

Here are some additional tips to make your mushroom hunt a success for the whole family:
  • Look, don’t touch! Before you head out for your hunt, let kids know that some mushrooms have chemicals that are not safe for humans, so when we find a mushroom, we’ll leave it where it is growing. (Note: Though some mushrooms contain toxins harmful if ingested, touching them is not harmful. Still, to be extra safe, it’s best not to encourage kids to pick wild mushrooms). You can also let kids know that the mushrooms have an important job in making healthy soil and helping plants and animals grow, so we’ll leave them where we found them so they can continue to do their important work.
  • Where to look: Mushrooms grow throughout the year but the fall is one of the best times to find them. They are especially abundant after rain. Mushrooms grow almost anywhere including the forest floor, under leaf debris, on banks of a slope, on fallen logs, inside the hollows of standing trees, and along the trunks of trees, both near the ground and high on the trunks. Mushrooms can also have a distinct smell. Once kids have had the chance to discover a few mushrooms using their sense of sight, challenge them to use their noses to sniff out hidden mushrooms.
  • Wash hands when done: When your mushroom hunt is finished, help kids wash hands in case a bit of exploring with hands took place. 

Make your own mushrooms: If you took photos to document their hunt, take a moment to look through them together and notice the colors and shapes of the different parts of each mushroom. Offer kids art materials to draw their own mushrooms. Kids can also use forest putty and nature treasures to create mushroom shapes. If you have store-bought mushrooms at home, offer kids a few to use as stamps with mud or paint.

Why is this activity great for kids?

Introducing kids to the amazing world of fungi is a super way to introduce kids to the idea that the natural world is interconnected and that all living things play an important role on our planet. As kids turn their eyes to the ground and search in, on and under objects, they also develop their focus skills and practice patience.
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