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]
What a great program! You are really educating future stewards of our earth.
We’re delighted to have the opportunity to teach about what we love — and we’re continually amazed at how interested and engaged the kids are. Thanks for commenting, Marcia. :-)
We have been in attendance for many of the Junior Ranger swearing-in ceremonies and I have always loved to see how serious the children are about the work they have done. Thanks for taking me inside the classroom. This is such a worthwhile program. Kudos to you both for embracing it. :)
We’ve put a lot of effort into creating a program that’s both educational and fun, LuAnn. As you said, it’s very rewarding for us to see how serious the children are about the work they’ve done. One little girl said to me, “Nature is my thing.”
I had to laugh when I read the part about the blue heron sound. Leave it to a ten year old to compare this sound!! I am sure you got all kind of variations of this sound especially if you had many boys. As a former teacher I can actually the goings on:)
Sounds like a wonderfully informative program. I am sure the parents that attend enjoy it as much as the young people. I know I would like to attend:)
The park is lucky to have such great instructors. You have a huge display.
Pam, I actually thought of you while I was writing this, knowing that you’re a former teacher! We’ve had so much fun creating this program. And you’re right, the parents seem to enjoy it just as much as the kids. We feel so fortunate to have this opportunity to teach what we love in a beautiful environment.
What a wonderful opportunity to create more nature lovers on this planet! Good job!
Thanks, Lisa — that’s our hope!
How wonderful and rewarding. They will remember it always.
Brenda, we feel so fortunate that we’re able to do something that we enjoy so much. ;-)
What a great thing you’re doing! And fun too. Everybody wins. Looks like you have some pretty amazing junior artists there also. Another layer to the coolness.
We have soooo much fun working with the kids. I’ll bet you could come up with some great projects, Kim!
It has been such a treat to read your blog and be inspired by all the beauty you have seen and now the great work you are doing in sharing your knowledge with these young people! You are both a blessing to others!
Barb, thank you so much — we love this work and are so grateful to have this opportunity. :-)
What a wonderful program you have put together. That’s a wide range of ages and abilities to work with at the same time. I just wish there was something like that for the kids that are older and really making an impact on the environment – read teenagers. I sure hope these kids will remember for at least 20 years what they have learned and experienced with you guys. The pictures are wonderful. Love your header and the one with the right hand raised. So cute!
Thanks, Sherry. It’s definitely our hope that the seeds we’re planting will create lasting memories and a positive influence.
Can I be your junior student? I bet I will learn a lot from Eric’s slideshow and your nature teachings.
Haha, yes, ML — we would love to have you in the program! And you’ll really like the beautiful Junior Range badge. (I actually have one myself.)