Naturalist Spotlight: Owl

Posted by on Mar 4, 2015 in Naturalist Blog | 0 comments

Chris-NewsomeHello, my name is Owl, and I have the privilege of being a volunteer naturalist at Shady Creek.

About two years ago, having recently retired, I was looking for some kind of opportunity to help nurture children’s love for nature and their understanding of their relationship to the environment.  I discovered Shady Creek Outdoor School not far from my home, and upon hearing about their classes and meeting the staff and naturalists, I realized I had found the perfect place. I asked Quail, the director, if I could be involved in this wonderful project and was given a warm reception which I came to learn is typical of the Shady Creek experience.

After “shadowing” a number of the naturalists teaching various classes, as well as doing studying on my own, I was ready to begin teaching classes about a year ago.  Although I have a background in the sciences, I have not been a classroom teacher, and so I was nervous about starting this challenge.  My first classes I co-taught with other naturalists;  after a few months, I taught under observation;  finally I began teaching classes alone, and though I am always challenged, I find that the fun and rewards of the experience have made my new “job” extremely rewarding.

The class I teach most often is Creek Ecology. The kids are always excited about this class, because they have typically seen the creek already on their Discovery Hike on the day of their arrival, and have been looking forward to more creek time since that day.   After some introductory circle time and games, we go to the Creek Classroom to review the water cycle, and talk about such things as watersheds, runoff, aquifers, and drought, and how they relate to our use of water;  we try especially to relate our discussion to northern CA and the area where our students live.  We then put on our scientists’ hats, and talk about the four parts of our scientific experiment:

-We ask the scientific question (is Shady Creek polluted? )

-We gather data (this is the Big Fun!—when we go down to the creek where the kids whoop and holler with glee at their discoveries, which can include macro invertebrates which they catch with their nets, and frogs and newts which they just admire with their eyes)

-We come back to the classroom to analyze our data

-We make our conclusion about the creek based on what kind of macro invertebrates we found (spoiler alert:  the news is good….)

Finally, we talk about what things can cause water pollution, and most importantly, what the children can do to be “Ecokids, to help prevent and reverse water pollution and also decrease water waste.

I cannot fully describe how rewarding it is to watch the transformation that many of these children go through after they arrive at Shady Creek on a Monday, many of them used to being glued to a computer screen for many hours a day, or never having been in the woods, or never having been away from home.  Then they become involved with one activity after the next, whether it is a fascinating nature class taught by a fun naturalist, or the awesome music program that happens every day, or the recreation choices (five options!) every afternoon, or they bond with their cabin leader (usually a high school senior volunteer from the same district), or…..the list of nurturing, instructive and fun things going on seems endless.  By the end of the week, almost all the kids end up loving to be in nature, and recognize their part in it.  In addition, they so often experience personal growth.  I heard a child say after handling the macro invertebrates in a creek class…”you know, I think I’ve become a braver person from this class”.  All the naturalists have seen or heard evidence of children making similar growth.  And I believe that for almost every child who comes to Shady Creek, it truly is  “The week that lasts a lifetime.”

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