One of our regular programs is an after-school session at Parkside Middle School. Every week we are there for about an hour and a half doing some sort of nature-related program. This year my goal is to spend as much time outside as possible, because that’s where nature is.
Yesterday the forecast was calling for rain, but in a surprise twist, the clouds cleared a bit and the sun came out. It was a last-minute decision to go outside and hit the bike trail.
Up until now, some of the students have been reluctant to participate – they are urban kids and the outdoors is foreign territory – a story that is all too common these days and one that is leading to what has been dubbed Nature Deficit Disorder. Yesterday, however, things just clicked.
First, we went through some of the things I had in my backpack – the tools of the naturalist’s trade. I had binoculars, hand lenses, field guides and my camera. I passed around hand lenses to everyone so they could take a close-up look at any interesting stuff they might find. And off we went to the bike path.
We found several species of grass, each with its own special seed head. We found several goldenrod galls, and I cut open one to expose the larva inside. Out came the phone cameras and everyone snapped a picture of it – some even using their hand lenses to get a macro shot, an inexpensive technique I explained earlier. Some very large horsetails (Equisetum) were growing there, too, and turned out to be another source of fascination.
But it wasn’t until we discovered the milkweed going to seed that we really hit pay dirt.
Have I mentioned before how much I love milkweed? Even cynical kids are fascinated by it, and we freed hundreds of seeds along the bike path. One of the students turned to me and said “I feel like a kid.” Huzzah! Success! Nature encourages discovery and play. It’s a beautiful thing.
Because some of this group hadn’t been with us on the first day of this program, we revisited my other favorite thing: acorn cap whistles. Another hit.
We are working on a year-long project with this group of students: a bird feeding station, which will incorporate a bird-friendly garden. During one after school session, Gary went out with me and we walked the kids around the school looking for a good site for such a station. We discussed the things birds need and what species of birds might visit a feeding station at the school. The following week, the kids and I mapped out the potential garden site. When I showed up yesterday, they asked if we were going to be working on the bird garden again. Ah-ha! They may have seemed resistant the last two sessions, but we had reached them, and now they are interested in continuing the project!
I love days when everything falls into place.