April is the month for events that celebrate environmental education and our great planet Earth. Environmental Education Week, April 11-17, 2010, is the perfect time to reflect on efforts in our schools and communities to reconnect kids with nature. Earth Day, April 22, 2010, is another opportunity to find connections to the natural world, and to explore what can be done to preserve our environment.
Getting kids engaged in science outdoors has anchored my career in science education, drawing on the early experiences provided to me by parents who valued the natural environment. From the snakes, turtles, frogs, and lizards that slept in the clothes chest in my bedroom, to the collections of sharks' teeth, feathers, bugs, and rocks, my childhood was filled with treasures from nature. I learned to treasure time outdoors, and all of the creatures I encountered while camping, boating, or walking through the woods.
Partly out of the necessity of being a teacher of meager means, I raised my own son with similar experiences - playing in parks, exploring piles of fall leaves, catching tadpoles in creeks, and collecting feathers and rocks. During his childhood, I revisited favorite memories of walking along a river with my own father and learning to dye Easter eggs with natural materials from my mother.
If you are a teacher or parent, you may or may not be giving the children you have responsibility for outdoor experiences, but I encourage you to try. The first outing can simply be an observation walk. Consider the activities in Outdoor Science: A Practical Guide, that suggest looking for animal artifacts in the school yard or taking a survey of what resources are available to wildlife around your school or home. These are easy enough that any parent or teacher, with any level of outdoor experience, can feel comfortable giving them a try. Just take a walk with kids and ask them to look around, make observations, and reflect on their observations in a class discussion or nature journal. This experience is simple, yet powerful. If you try it, comment on my blog and let me know how it goes.
On my nature walk around my yard this week, I have seen a rabbit hole with two new bunnies, and the first Tiger Swallowtail butterflies of the season. What will you see? What will your child or students see? I can't wait to find out. Go outside today!
(Reference- Outdoor Science, A Practical Guide, www.nsta.org NSTA Press 2010)