On Friday mornings, we teach a program called “Plants and Nature Journals” and on Saturday mornings we teach about “Birds and Other Stuff,” with the other stuff being whatever we feel inspired to teach. Mostly the “other stuff” has been about the Native Northwest tribes that were the first inhabitants of Lopez.
During the plant program on Fridays, we talk about the relationship of people and plants, and how essential plants are to our lives. I ask them to imagine living on Lopez with no grocery store, no pharmacy, and no hardware store. We talk about the plants found in such abundance on the island, and how the native peoples used the plants for food, for medicines, and for building materials. We tell them that the bark of Western red cedar was even used for diapers—laughter and “Ewwww!!!!” is always their response. We try salal berries, and they’re surprised at the sweet, juicy flavor. (Invariably, the next morning at the bird program at least one kid comes back and tells us that they picked salal berries for their oatmeal or pancakes.)
Eric has put together a wonderful slideshow of Lopez birds from photographs he’s taken over the past four years. A significant number of children can correctly identify the birds in the slideshow, calling out “Great blue heron!” “Bald eagle!” “American robin!” at the appropriate time. And then, inevitably, someone yells, “Blue jay!” when a photo of a Barn swallow appears on the screen. I guess there are a few things we can teach them.
As we show the photos on the laptop, we also pass out stuffed birds that make realistic birdcalls when they’re squeezed. The kids love this. “Can you mimic the sound of this bird?” we ask when the toy chickadee is squeezed. “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee!” the kids sing in unison. “How about this one?” I ask when the Great blue heron is squeezed. “It sounds like a fart!” shouted a 10-year old boy last week. We lost the kids for a few minutes while they digressed into a symphony of fart noises.
During the “other stuff” part of our program on Saturdays, we talk about the significance of totems, read a story written by Native Northwest peoples, and the kids each choose a totem to color. We have at least 15 different totems to choose from—bear, salmon, wolf, snake, beaver, eagle, raven, hummingbird, frog, and more—surprisingly, the kids have no problem choosing their totem animal. It’s a big hit.
One of the most rewarding aspects of the Junior Rangers program is swearing in new Junior Rangers. They’re so proud of their work, as they should be. To qualify as a Junior Ranger, they have to complete a significant amount of work in their Junior Ranger workbook, which encompasses learning how to be a respectful camper along with a wide range of self-guided nature activities geared to the 5-10 year old crowd.
They take their work seriously, and so do we. We review their workbooks and acknowledge the time and effort they’ve put in. And then we conduct a little ceremony, where they pledge to protect nature. And then, the big moment that they’ve been waiting for—we pin on their shiny Junior Ranger badge and hand them their official Junior Ranger card. Honestly, it’s as gratifying for us as it is for them. We love knowing that we’re helping to send these little ambassadors of nature out into the world.[portfolio_slideshow]