by Chrissie Wilson, Center Educator
As an educator, I experience bittersweet emotions as we round the corner to the end of the school year. March is when we start to see many of our Conservation Classroom students embark on their classroom’s final visit. The development that many students show during our year together is incredible. Some start the year off unfamiliar with being present in the natural world: they struggle to hold their bodies still and observe with their senses, or they’re fearful of being outside in the forest. But as the year goes on that starts to change.
This development is demonstrated not just in test results but in the ways the students relate to the activities in each lesson. One of students, who had never been birding before, requested a take home “bird menu” because he was so excited to try birding at home. When a 6th-grader was able to catch a leech, one classmate was immediately inspired to try and catch one of her own, claiming they were “so cool!” For many of our students, just the simple act of physically being outside and trying something new, or using scientific tools such as binoculars and field guides, can create that instant connection we as educators strive for.
One of my favorite parts of the day is reading the feedback the students write at the end of each program to say how they connected to nature. This one—written by a 4th-grader from one of our partner schools—perfectly sums up the goals of Conservation Classroom: “Today I learned you should stop littering and probably just save all the animals.” We don’t instruct our students on what to think, we hand them scientifically based facts and allow them to draw their own conclusions. The freedom to think, process, and explore is central to creating lifelong connections to nature, science, and the outdoors.
So, as our education team enters spring 2017, we go into this part of the year with the reminder that this visit is the last for some students in our Conservation Classroom program during the current school year. These few visits could be the only times these children get to go outside in a safe space and have the freedom to explore. We always encourage returns visits outside of the classroom setting, but we know that’s not always possible for many families in our city. We have a small window to make a difference, but we’ve proven time and time again that outdoor education is never a waste.