Every fall the walnut tree across the creek drops a couple of walnuts onto our playground. But this year, we got very lucky when our Wednesday morning volunteer, Scarlett Williams, brought in an entire bag of black walnuts.
Black walnut trees are ubiquitous in the Southern Applachian mountains, and seem to evoke one of two reactions—euphoric appreciation of this seasonal delicacy, or unbridled disgust at the lawn-blighting fruits.
A black walnut has three parts: the sweet white nutmeat at the very center, the hard, wrinkly shell covering it, and on the very outermost part, the larger green (turning black) husk. Scarlett’s excitement about all parts of this lovely nut was easily taken up by the students.
First, Scarlett set up a nut cracking station- a flat rock for laying the nut upon and a rough one for smashing down upon the first. It didn’t take long for students to run up to ask Scarlett “What are you doing?” In general, smashing things will draw in a crowd of preschoolers. But smashing something that you could then eat? It was completely irresistible.
Scarlett showed the students how to roll or peel off the outer husk, to ready the nut for smashing. Once smashed, we searched for and ate the white meat inside. Delicious!
Once tired of smashing, we had a good collection of husks. It was time to make paint. Students gathered the husks, placed them in a pot, and then added some creek water. A stick was our stirring spoon. Paint!
After a search for paintbrushes that unearthed sticks, leaves, and pine needles, we were ready to test the paint. It’s always interesting to watch children paint, and today was no exception. No one complained at having only one color of paint. They were overjoyed just to have made their own. Experimenting with different “brushes” brought all the variety required.
By now, you’ve probably guessed which side of “love it or leave it” that we fall on over here at The Mayapple School. We loved our morning of Black Walnuts, and we loved our volunteer, Scarlett, for sharing the experience with us.
If you’ve fallen in love with the Black Walnut and the natural learning opportunities it provides, I’d love to hear your story. If you’re just getting started exploring, use precaution to keep little hands safe and remember that the nut will stain fabric as well as paper.