As a member of the education staff, I have the privilege of going into local schools and teaching kids of various ages about natural history. The takeaway, for me at least, is surprisingly consistent; besides adding to my growing list of humorous stories that could be titled “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” these visits make it very clear that our area’s students are thirsty for knowledge about wildlife. They crave even a pseudo-encounter with their Mother Nature. Jamestown Audubon’s school programs nearly always involve bringing pieces of the outdoors into the classroom – beaver pelts, bear skulls, insect collections, bird nests, leaves and seeds – and the kids treat even these simple items as if they were relics from some era long-since passed. I wish I could describe the absolute awe that falls over the room as they pass around a painted turtle shell. The majority of them examine the piece as if they have never touched something so real. Where’s the turtle, they wonder. Where indeed.
I have mixed emotions about these experiences. I’m delighted to be the face that brings nature into the classroom. I’m devastated at the all-to-obvious schism between our youth and the natural world. The ties have been caught, the misconceptions perpetuated. Too many teachers have been forced to cut curriculum that includes interactions with the world outside and the result is that students aren’t given the opportunity to develop a deep understanding or respect for nature. But another discussion on the state of education in the nation is not what anyone needs. We know. We’ve read the articles, seen it on television, heard it from our educators, and witnessed it in our kids. Problem is, words aren’t changing things.
Ready to try something that might?
When Audubon visits schools we only get about an hour to talk to each group of kids, just a turtle shell. But when kids visit Audubon, we have the chance to expand instruction time immensely, to introduce the living, breathing turtle. Every summer, Audubon offers local kids the opportunity to become Audubon Campers. A month’s worth of summer camp offers fun and action-packed days at Audubon with our naturalists. We’ll take walks, discover things, play games, get dirty and spend as much time as possible outside. We’ll meet some animals, use some nature tools, and get participants hooked on nature. Each week of Audubon Day Camp has its own theme and its own specified age group, from pre-K through grade 12 – our goal is to offer the nature programming that isn’t possible during the regular school year … and make it ridiculously fun while we’re at it.
Students in pre-K and kindergarten are invited to enroll in Mini-Camps to introduce them to the wonder of the out-of-doors. Week themes for this age group include Green Play and Nature Music. The second, Nature Music, will be taught by Melanie Gritters of Children’s Music Studio.
Children in grades 1 and 2 are offered a wide variety of weeklong programs including a camp called Howls and Growls that explores how animals communicate in many different ways. Students in grades 3 and 4 have a long list of options as well; pick from weeks titled Nature Nuts, Animal Architecture; Scales & Cold-Blooded Tales; Adventure’s Out There; Swirls, Whirls & Rainbows; and even a Surprise Camp (the theme is a mystery).
Older kids in grades 5 through 7 can choose to embark on incredible journeys giving them the opportunity to trap and release wild animals, investigate the inspirations of famous naturalists, explore ecology in-depth, and teenagers can even take field trips to outdoor sites like Arkwright Falls, Jakes Rocks and Presque Isle.
Hands-on, outside, exploration and learning. Find out more at jacamps.wordpress.com/. You can find online versions of the registration form and required Health Forms at jacamps.wordpress.com/forms/. You can also call the Jamestown Audubon with any questions or concerns you might have: 569-2345. It might seem a little early to be talking summer, but these camps fill up fast and it’s a great thing for kids to look forward to. Don’t forget Mud Camp on April 14. More information available online.
Crin Fredrickson is a seasonal naturalist at Audubon, and was just hired on to continue through summer as a camp counselor.