A Personal Story: How an outdoor education to our kids benefits our life.
This post is contributed by Amanda Marie Clark.
My husband and I met while working at an outdoor education center called Nature’s Classroom. This organization invites students and teachers to come live in a cabin in the woods for a week and learn about conservation, local wildlife, biology, and more. It is a tremendous organization that encourages our children to be environmentally aware as well as take a positive action for our future.
Over the course of my four-year career at Nature’s Classroom, I estimate that I taught thousands of students; and eleven years later, this number is still mind-boggling. That’s a lot of children learning about how to make a change, and although this job had the longest hours I have ever had, it was certainly the most rewarding.
The program is catered primarily for fifth and sixth graders, but there are also schools that do half weeks and day trips that tend to be younger. One of my most memorable groups was only in first grade. The parents attended, and they were there for three days.
Because of what this school requested, it just so happened that my husband and I were to be in charge of this very young group.
All these years later, my husband and I still talk about the amazing experience it was to teach these youngsters in the woods.
One memory that always comes to mind about this group is when we took them to a low part of a river, taught them about the habitats of beavers, and had them build a dam.
By the time we were finished, these kids were soaked and covered with mud, and it was awesome!
I don't think some of the kids had ever been that dirty, and they were just so happy.
These first graders were so easy to please, and they were like little miniature sponges that hung onto every word while we talked to them about how the beavers gnawed the tees and how they not only built dams but built lodges.
After building and destroying their own dam, we took the kids to see an abandoned beaver lodge, and you could just see the connections flowing. These kids knew nothing about beavers before, and now they were connected. Now they saw that even beavers have homes.
During that week, we also took the kids to go get eggs from actual chickens. This experience was extremely foreign to some. They thought it was so cool that I would grab an egg from a chicken pen then cook it over a fire.
Before this experience, the most excitement these kids had had with eggs was when they got to order the smiley breakfast kids meal at IHOP.
Teaching kids to develop a connection with their food has always been important to me.
Another great learning experience involving food conservation was weighing their uneaten food after every meal. This food was referred to as “ort”. Although it sounds nasty, all of this food waste was splattered into a big, white bucket and weighed after every meal.
Through the process, the kids learned about the energy required to make food. For example, we’d pick up a kid’s half-eaten apple (with gloves, of course) and have them line up to show that apple’s journey from the orchard to our plates. One kid would be planting seeds, another kid would be picking the apple, another would be boxing up the apple, another would be driving the apples to the store, etc. I think you get the picture.
The point was to show the kids that food requires energy and all that energy affects the environment. Most of those young kids had never thought about where their food came from. Ort required them to think about it and make the connection that food requires energy and should not be wasted.
Another great memory with this group was when my husband and I took the kids hiking with a llama. Yes, you read that correctly. The llamas were kept in this fenced area, and if you wanted to walk the llamas, you had to get a harness on them first.
These first graders were ecstatic when one of the llamas spat at me. They also were entertained by the numerous attempts it took me to wrangle my favorite llama, Monty.
But once I finally got the llama harnessed, we were able to hike with him up a mountain.
Now, what kid doesn’t want to hike with a llama up a mountain? They thought it was the coolest thing ever. The llama was happy, my husband and I were happy, and the kids were ecstatic.
Developing connections with animals was another successful goal of this outdoor education program.
All of these activities reinforced these first grader's love of the outdoors. It was a blessing to watch these kids play in the leaves, jump in mud puddles, and gaze up at the open-ended sky.
It was also apparent that these kids were learning. They learned about salamanders that my husband spoke about in excessive details when he spotted them on the trail. They learned about lichen and how it was it a symbiotic relationship between fungus and algae. They learned about the natural dyes that were in the needles of a hemlock tree.
They were learning, and they were enjoying it.
Nature’s Classroom also taught students about water conservation. Students would gasp when they heard that they were only supposed to take three-minute showers. Young kids don’t usually think about waste. Most kids think that our resources are infinite; Nature’s Classroom made them realize that they are not. It’s a lesson that is valuable even for first graders.
These environmental lessons were all jam-packed into three days. That first-grade field group was the youngest group my husband and I ever taught. We thought it was going to be difficult. We thought that they might not grasp what we were trying to tell them, but it became clear that it was the complete opposite. As stated in my previous post, kids understand so much more than we give them credit for.
That half-week I was proud to have instilled some grains of recognition about conservation, environmental issues, and animal habitats. I was also proud to be part of such an educational, hands-on-learning program that had a mission to teach children to be more considerate of our world.
It also was nice that my husband and I experienced this together, and we are able to take what we learned from Nature’s Classroom, and teach our own sons. Nature definitely brings people together. Since teaching those first graders in the wilderness, we have been together for ten years.