We began our quest to study the seven most common families of plants using Thomas Elpel's Botany in a Day. The idea is that if you can learn the characteristics of these seven families, you can then identify which family the vast majority of plants belong, and then you can look them up in field guides that have plants listed by families much more easily and accurately.
The companion book to Botany in a Day is Shanleya's Quest, which is a child's version of the book written by the same author, and introduces the seven plant families by way of a fairy tale. The main character Shanleya travels in a canoe from island to island in a fairy tale sea. Each island is inhabited by one plant family and a "guardian". Some of the guardians are good and some bad. If the island has poisonous plants then the guardians is bad, thus teaching the kids which plant families contain poisonous species.
The friendly and good Mint guardian has a square stalk, opposing leaves and is aromatic, enabling the student to remember the most important features of the family but is drawn in a friendly, engaging way with a peppermint stick for a walking cane, a hat of bee balm flower and limbs that are square to give children pleasing visuals to help them remember the different families. I gathered what plants I had in the yard that fit the description of the mint family -some were mints, bee balm and a weed, which I have yet to identify, and we set to the task of drawing pictures of them, making sure we included the most important features of the family. We will see if we can find some plants in this family on our next Nature Walk.
Update: 5/19/08: We recieved the Field Guides we had ordered and Katie quickly found the idenity of the unidentified weed: Purple Dead Nettle (purpureum), and it was indeed listed as belonging to the mint family!