Naturalist Blog

Being a Naturalist is a wonderful job.  Check here regularly for insights into our world!

A Message from Zebra

Posted by on Feb 8, 2018 in Naturalist Blog | 0 comments

By Elias “Zebra” Wallace

Photos are typically taken for memories. Many people don’t realize that a photo holds secrets that are only valued by a certain person or group of people. By looking at a single photo, so many memories, thoughts, and feelings can rise up because a photo has the power to stop time and capture experiences that may never been captured again. The picture above is me, standing over the most beautiful nature setting I’ve ever experienced. This photo is so important to me because I was able to literally stop time and capture a split second of my life where I was complete and full of happiness.

Two days prior to this photo, I was completely off focus. My grades were dropping, I was having family issues, I was stressing over balancing school and work; I was a complete wreck. One of my teachers then suggested taking a week off to attend an outdoor camp called Shady Creek, as a high school counselor. At the moment, I thought the idea was completely bogus and I had no intent of missing school for a camp full of children. I went home and told my mother about the idea and she suggested that it would be a great experience, and that I needed a break from the modern world and the stress of my everyday life. At this point, my ears were open so I stepped out and signed up. Within the first 30 minutes of the trip, I knew that this was going to be the most amazing experience of my life, and that it was.

When this photo was taken, I had the only intent of looking “handsome” for the camera, but when I look at it now, I’m brought back to the beauty around me at that moment. I can hear the stream soaring through the rocks. I can hear the cool wind whistling through the tree branches. Even as I look at my smile, I’m reminded of the joy that was brought to me that morning.

The day before this photo was taken, I met the boys to whom I was in charge of watching over for five days. We all were challenged to come up with a “nature name,” so I called myself Zebra along with my fellow cabin leader, Tree. I had 6 boys: Panda Pete, Funky Skunky, Jaguar, Falcon, Koala, and Jungle George. These boys were amazing, but they all shared identity issues and so did I. By helping them find who they were, they helped me find who I was. When I look at this photo, I can hear the kids yelling “Zeebraa!” I am brought back to the nights in the cabin where I would sing them the songs that my mother used to sing me, and I’m reminded of how much I’ve saw them grow in the five days we spent together.

In this photo, a few of my fellow cabin leaders and I were on our daily break and we chose to go on a hike. This was our first trip down to the creek. We had to travel downhill into a mystical green forest filled with amazing wonders. When you’d look around, all you’d see are huge deep green trees on every side of you and only a small dirt path to follow. We followed this path for what seemed to be hours until we were faced with the most amazing and blissful scenery we’ve ever witnessed. Suddenly, I heard nothing but the whispers of the creek and the tree’s inhaling in the winds. The temperature immediately changed from hot and humid, to cool and refreshing. We could see the water glisten like diamonds and drift over the smooth rocks down to a small waterfall. The air was filled with small fairy-like dandelion flakes that drifted through the wind that gave the scenery a magical feel. This was truly the most alluring sight I’ve yet to see. When I look at this photo, I am vividly reminded of the images, and the lively sounds of nature are played in my ear. I’m brought back to the nights on a mountain top where my cabin and I would gaze upon the stars that illuminated the night sky like millions of lamps.

When this photo was taken, I was currently in the process of becoming a new person. I saw nature in a way that gave me appreciation for the elements that reside around me. The six boys whom I still hold near to my heart, were on my mind the very moment the shutter of the camera closed. As I looked at the stream that laid below me, my entire life played before my eyes. I found who I was.

It’s astonishing how much information and value a simple photo can hold and only mean so much to one, or a select group of people. If an ordinary person looked at the photo, they would probably just admire my smile, or the scenery behind me, but no one would ever know what ran threw my mind at this very moment, and they would never understand the challenges within myself that I was overcoming at this point in time. In this case, This photo stopped time and allowed me to capture a moment where my life was full of life and alluring memories. So many things changed about me after this photo was taken. I brought my grades up, I was closer with my younger siblings, my parents, and most importantly I found who I was and who I was created to be.

Every room at Shady Creek has a Window

Posted by on May 2, 2017 in Naturalist Blog | 0 comments

By Jake The Snake

Every room at Shady Creek has a Window. When you wake up, whether it be in the Raptor cabins (named after various birds of prey) or the Mountain Cabins (one could reasonably guess what these cabins are named after), or the domes (named after nothing more than their shape.) you are greeted with sunshine in the early a.m, and starlight in the late p.m.

I live in the Raptor Cabins, way up at the top of the hill. Our front lawn serves as a large stretch of grass overlooking the treeline of the Sierra Nevada. You can see hawks, clouds, tree canopies, and the gentle roll of the mountain all from the lawn, and from the window which makes up the top half of the exterior wall of the cabins.

On full moons, the luna shines in through the window, the blankets and furniture and various knick knacks which adorn the cabin get bathed in a pale glow, and the whole of camp seems to be lit up by an ever-luminescent glowbug that seems to be ominously out of sight at all times.
On new moons, only the faint twinkle of constellations comes in. Everything on camp seems to be sleeping. Hopefully, that is the case.
In the morning, the cool mountain air, along with the sunshine of the day, peeks in through the window. Through the glass pane you can hear kiddos coming and going, running and playing, teeth brushing and hair combing.
As evening program winds down, and kids head to bed, as you pace the sidewalks around the cabins, you can hear the sounds of perturbed teenagers desperately trying to shush and calm a cabin full of ten year olds to sleep.

In the kitchen, in the dining hall, and all throughout the gauze pad, the windows are present. Providing a view of the forest and of the camp from almost every angle. No matter where you sit, be it by yourself in the Discovery Den (our go to large, circular sitting room) or the nurse’s office, there is a window either behind you or in front of you. The outside is always inside, no matter which inside you are in.
Even our break room is adorned in windows. At all times you can see the roads which circle the dining hall. As you sit down with your co-workers, one can see mobs of children coming and going. Sometimes in single file lines, sometimes in humming and buzzing hoards, sometimes in scattered plots. (similar to dots on a graph, maybe.)

A window is an opening in a wall, ceiling, or roof which allows in the passage of light.

The windows make nature a constant presence on camp, and thus make camp a constant presence in your life. Even as I sit here and write this in the Earth Room (our go to large, rectangular sitting room), the light from the sun is slipping between a cloud and cascading into the room, warming every bit of face or arm it happens touch. Subsequently, also glaring my laptop and making it a bit hard to write.

More so than that, I think the windows here reflect honesty. Reflect a sense of transparency. There is no true seclusion, everything is open, people are always there. This is not just the physical reality of Shady Creek, but also the emotional one. Just as the windows are always open, and there is always someone or something breathtaking to be seen, the culture we try to craft here is the same. There are always folks here, always experiences here, always things to be done and seen. All one has to do is get out of bed and open the door.

Windows are held in place by frames.

Garden Blog: Garden Mission 2017

Posted by on Mar 8, 2017 in Naturalist Blog | 0 comments






Hello everyone, as we celebrate the 2016 season and look towards 2017 we wanted to recognize all that has happened in the garden so far. Below are our garden mission statement and a list of projects that we have been able to complete thanks to so many amazing people.

Thank you to everyone in our Shady Creek Community!


Shady Creek’s Garden mission:

We want students to experience the garden by encouraging adventures, making connections, and cultivating knowledge.

Our lessons in the garden are inquiry based by encouraging students to explore the world of the small.

We strive for students to connect to the soil and understand where their food comes from. Students are able to sample or cook in the garden with produce that was planted by past students. Then in turn current students will be the planters of crops for future students.

Cultivate knowledge:
Having the garden as the teaching tool, we show how healthy food choices can be achieved.

Completed projects 2015/2016 In Progress


Wish list
·         Worm bin

·         Hugelkulter bed*

·         Permaculture style of sitting area

·         Maintaining 11 raised garden beds

·         Installed a drip irrigation in our greenhouse

·         Skyward pallets (vertical gardening)

·         Cob oven

·         Compost bin

·         Cherry orchard

·         Garden shed

·         Student tools


Garden Blog: Operation Skyward Pallets

Posted by on Mar 8, 2017 in Naturalist Blog | 0 comments

Our food comes to Shady creek by truck and every now and then we get a large delivery in which they leave a pallet. Over time we collected these pallets to reuse them by turning them into vertical planter boxes.

Planting vertically is not a new idea for example the Hanging Gardens of Babylon was completed around 600 B.C. Although there is some debate if the gardens existed at all, some historians tell a story of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar II, built the gardens in current day Iraq for his home sick wife, Amyitis, who used to live in a more mountain and lush area. The garden was built with rooftop terraces and a chain pump to water the gardens. The pump used two wheels with a chain between them to push buckets of water up to the gardens.

However there are many more uses to plant vertical gardens then to cheer up some homesickness or beyond beauty and aesthetics. Vertical gardening can increase air quality, property values, and increase urban wildlife.  By growing up that saves room for those who have small backyards.

Our Project Dimensions:

6’9” wide (two pallets long) by 4’5” wide and 5’9” tall

Materials needed:

6 wooden pallets

2X4’s and wooden trellises

Screws (or nails we used screws so that we can take them out if we made a mistake)

Medal braces (we found leftovers braces from another project)

Use Logs/ branches/ clippings from wood that promote decomposition.

Be an Eco- Kid:

You could buy these materials however using what is around not only makes the project cheaper to make but also saves treasures from landfills. Our project cost us nothing but our own time. Even the screws and medal braces were leftovers from other projects.

Here is what we did:

Preparing the soil:

We wanted our skyward pallets to interact and be a part of the soil below the bed. This way we will not need to add as much yearly fertilizer compared to our raised wooden box beds.

We started by digging a 1-11/2′ hole and filled it with logs and brush from the oak trees surrounding the garden. This will allow for the water to sink into the ground and stay under the bed. We then added a layer of straw and with the power combined the wood and straw should add fungus growth and other decomposers to the site. Our final step was to mix manure (we used horse manure because one of our neighbors donated it to us), top soil that was donated through Recology and the existing clay/ sandy soil together. This will promote root growth and the bed will be a part of the surrounding soil.

Skyward pallets:










Our vision was to lean pallets together making an “A” frame. We decided for our vertical bed to be 1 1/2 pallets tall which stands at 5’9” tall.  You could build a smaller one by using one pallet tall. We took two pallets and cut it in half and reinforced the half pallet by screwing in a 2X4 at the top and bottom. Then we took two new pallets and screwed them together using medal brackets that secured them together. We repeated this process with two new pallets creating both walls of our bed. We then took the half pallets and secured them (with screws and medal brackets) to the top of the pallets so that one wall stands at one and a half pallet tall. We then took 2X4 and created a rectangle base around the pallets. This connected all four leaning pallets together.

Our challenge for this project:

Over time the pallets did settle in the ground so that the structure has a small lean to it. If we did not make the rectangle base, the structure might not be sound. Our final step was to add soil and attach 2X4’s and wooden trellises along the sides to pin in the soil to the top. This sounded easy but proved difficult. We found out the middle of the “A” frame was going to need a lot of soil which tended to run through the holes of the pallets. Our solution was to add logs and branches and even a bale of straw to fill in the room. Then we added soil through the slats in the pallets hoping that once the plants were established they will hold the soil in place as the branches decay.

Plants we are thinking of planting includes strawberries and tomatoes which do well in a hanging state. We are also interested in planting sunflowers at the top to see how tall they will grow as a tower over everyone.

Woods that work best to promote decay:

  • alders
  • apple
  • aspen
  • birch
  • cottonwood
  • maple
  • oak
  • poplar
  • willow (make sure it is dead)
  • Pine is acceptable.

Wood to avoid:

  • most or all  cedars (cypress, redwood, sequoia)
  • camphor wood
  • black locust
  • black cherry
  • eucalyptus
  • tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima)
  • black walnut
  • California pepper tree (Peruvian and Brazilian)
  • Siberian Elm


Work Cited:

The Museum of Un-Natural Mystery “The hanging Gardens of Babylon”

Ancient History Encyclopedia “The Hanging Gardens of Babylon: The Mysterious Wonder of the Ancient”

Vertical gardening

Garden Blog: Hugelkulter bed update

Posted by on Mar 8, 2017 in Naturalist Blog | 0 comments






Hugelkulter bed update:









Success with the mound:
To our surprise we received a small crop of blueberries during the summer even though the bushes were only in the ground for half a year. Fall time brought a large crop of 10 pumpkin/ gourds. We harvested them and made pumpkin bread for the school’s snack time. Then we had an abundant amount of tomato bushes partly climbing up the apple tree. Also we were able to keep basil bushes growing well until November which was longer than last year. We received a generous donation and bought a new Macintosh apple tree. This way the two apple trees can pollinate each other. We were able to plant a winter crop of peas that were planted by students in our green house and onions. We are also trying a technique where we cut down the old tomato stocks and leave them on the mound to decompose. This way we may not need to plant tomato seeds in the spring.
Finally like before we are finding many more lizards and insects at the mound site possibly because we created a habitat for them.

Challenges with the mound:
Our vision of the mound was that we would be able to stand and plant or harvest without touching the mound. However do to the angle of the mound or the logs boarding the mound it has been unavoidable to stand, knee, or lean to plant or harvest. Also the goal for the mound to never be hand watered again will be tested this summer. Right now our hope is that the mound is filling up with water this winter to get ready for the summer.

Thanks for visiting
Check back here every so often to see more updates.

Hugelkultur Garden Beds

Posted by on Oct 4, 2016 in Naturalist Blog | 0 comments




Our latest garden addition is the construction of a hugelkultur garden bed. Hugelkultur, which roughly translates to “mound hill” in German, is a way to combine composting and vegetable gardening together. It is a no till method that can reach up to seven feet tall and can last up to twenty years. Mound gardening is a technique applied around the world. In Eastern Europe and Germany, for instance, hugelkultur has been used for centuries to retain moisture on site, improve drainage, increase soil fertility, and use wood debris. Another example of mound gardening, referred to as swales, was created in 2013 in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. These swales create microclimates which improve the soil, promote drought and salt tolerant plants, decrease erosion, and harvest water from flash floods. Other goals for swales include providing habitat to lizards that eat pests and eventually lead to strips of forest along the deserts.

There are several beneficial components to hugelcultur. If a mound is built up to six or seven feet tall, then watering is unneeded after the first year. Buried within the mound are logs, which will slowly decompose and provide nutrients to the harvestable plants. By having a base layer of wood debris, the mound can also foster Mycelium, the vegetative part of a fungus. Mycelium, besides producing mushrooms which is the fruiting body, decomposes the base log layer, helps plants absorb nutrients, and improves soil quality. Finally, mound gardening is an example of vertical gardening, which saves room by growing up instead of out.

Here is how we did it.


The supplies we used were all treasures that could have been regarded as waste. Over the course of four weeks, a team of Americorp members took out the invasive scotch broom to reduce brush around our buildings. The uncovered limbs and logs from this clearing were brought to this garden to use as the mound’s base. We also used donated rice straw bales from Sierra Fiddle Camp, newspaper, and cardboard from our kitchen. On top we used compost soil that was donated through Recology. When adding it all up, this project had zero production cost.


We had to pick a location that would catch water flowing through the garden and had full sun during part of the day. Then Beast, part of our amazing maintenance team, dug a two by five foot trench with a tractor. Beast also put some gravel down at the base of our ditch.


Then next day, with help from the Americorps team, we began the layering process. We started with a variety of decaying and fresh logs of ponderosa pine and oak. Then, we put a layer of smaller woody debris, branches, followed organic matter and plant debris, such as leftover tomato plants and bean stalks from the previous season.










Next came half an inch of newspaper, a layer of overlapping cardboard, and an eight to twelve inch layer of straw. This layer helps activate the decomposition process. By now we are nearly back to the ground level (two feet high) and have added a sprinkle of water between each layer. This is followed by a manure/compost layer of five inches or so, to add nitrogen and support fungus growth.



Mixing and adding the original top soil with the donated compost soil, we then put on a final inch or two of straw. The straw helps avoid erosion during the rainy season and reduces weed growth until we are ready to plant. This entire process took seven people working the majority of the day.










The final touches included digging a small trench on the uphill side of the mound to catch water during the winter and sink it into the ground. We also put a layer of wood logs around the base to catch any sliding soil.











Three Months Later:

Currently the mound still has its top layer of straw to prevent erosion and has sunk at least one foot. We planted four blueberry bushes along the top and found a local species of mushroom. Because the layers of compost soil used in the mound was sterile, the mushrooms are evidence that the interior of the mound is working as intended. Lucky this year’s weather has given Shady Creek a few good storms, and the mound is filled up with water like a tub. During the last few weeks of rain, a small trickle of water sprung, which might mean that we will not need to water it this summer. The mound is already a habitat, and during the dry days lizards skirt in and out. Within the next month we plan to utilize the mound for planting a food forest and using the techniques of companion planting.
Other notes if this sounds good for your own backyard:


Our mound stands three feet tall from ground level after dropping a foot due to settling, is two feet deep, fifteen feet long, and five feet wide.

Woods that work best:

  • alders
  • apple
  • aspen
  • birch
  • cottonwood
  • maple
  • oak
  • poplar
  • willow (make sure it is dead)
  • Pine is acceptable.

Wood to avoid:

  • most or all  cedars (cypress, redwood, sequoia)
  • camphor wood
  • black locust
  • black cherry
  • eucalyptus
  • tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima)
  • black walnut (Juglans nigra)
  • California pepper tree (Peruvian and Brasilian)
  • Siberian Elm



  • A layer of gravel/rocks (Optional to increase drainage)
  • A layer of logs/bigger branches
  • A layer of branch trimmings
  • Two bales of straw (hay bales have seeds still in them) in our mound rice straw was used, but there are other types of straw that are more nutrient fixing.
  • A layer of: compost, organic matter, manure
  • A layer of top soil mixed in with the ground soil

*note a “layer” varies based on the size you want and what is available around you

Down sides:

Hugelkultur beds are not tilled and we the used rice straw which could reduce nitrogen in the soil. This is why we will have legumes planted will be important an nitrogen replacer.

Because the wood is buried, there is a chance for an increase in termites. It has been hard to find evidence for or against this statement outside of other blogs and personal antecdotes.

Don’t take my word for it, good starting sites:

Permaculture examples:

Thanks for visiting!
Keep checking this blog to follow our progress.


Meet White Wolf

Posted by on May 13, 2015 in Naturalist Blog | 0 comments

Sean Gill Pic 3Hi, my name is Sean Gill. I am a naturalist intern, which means that I am out of college with a degree, and this is my first year as a naturalist. However, at Shady Creek, I don’t go by Sean – I go by White Wolf. I’ve come to consider it my second identity, my alter ego, if you will. Strangely though, my alter ego isn’t quite what I expected it to be, which also sums up my experience at Shady Creek as an intern. I never thought I would have done so much in these last 9 months that I have, and I’ve grown more than I expected. That growth didn’t start here, but it has certainly sped up when I started working. All in all, if I had to sum up my past year at Shady Creek in one word, I would choose “growth”.

One way I’ve grown is how I treat myself and act around others. I’ve always been a very self-conscious person, worrying what others might think of me and how I act, because I have never been someone who would fit in the box of “normal.” However, these past two years have helped me break past some of those thoughts. I’veSean Gill Pic 2 become very close to people who love me for who I am as a whole, and I can be who I want to be around them. At Shady Creek, I’ve learned to be more comfortable with myself, but also when I’m around other people. Yeti and Quail do a great job of promoting that atmosphere here. I’ve known Yeti for a few years now, since he hired me to be a summer camp counselor when I was 19 or so, and he’s told me the difference between the me back then and the me now is mind blowing in just self-confidence alone. I owe a lot to them, because they themselves are quirky people who love being who they want to be, and share that with others, serving as great role models. I want to be like that too, and I know that I’ve got some work to do, but I’ve already made a lot of progress.

Sean Gill Pic 1Speaking of progress; I’ve also grown a lot professionally in just these 9 months. I bet if I could look at one of my first classes I ever taught, and compared to now, I would just think, “Oh my goodness, what was I thinking back then???” I’ve learned a good deal about classroom management, trying to awaken that spark of wonder, and just teaching in general. Shady Creek has given me a lot of resources to make that possible. All of the senior staff is happy to help, offering helpful advice, watching our classes, and sitting down with us to ask the hard questions and make the tough decisions of making our classes. Personally, I think they enjoy watching new naturalists grow into their own even more than teaching kids. Shady Creek has also offered me one other thing professionally; a desired career path. I’ve come to realize that I want to make a career in environmental education, whether being a naturalist of beyond. Either way, I want to keep teaching and educating the world about the beauty of nature, giving them that connection and awakening that desire to learn. I have some tools now, but I still have a long way to go to become as good as people like Quail, Ibis, Yeti, or the rest of the senior staff. Still, I have a start, and a great start at that, one that I hope will serve me in years to come.

This brings me to the final part of my post. I confess, Shady Creek was never a permanent thing for me – there’s so much out there to do and explore, and I want to go out and find it all. However, I am so grateful that this is where I started. The people I’ve met have been incredible, helping to build me up and keep me going. They are my family now, even though we aren’t bound by blood, and I hope those bonds last a lifetime. I have tools that make me a better teacher and a better person, tools that will be the basis of what I do. In Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, there’s a saying that goes, “the road goes ever on and on, down from the doorway where it began.” Well, Shady Creek is my doorway, and the road is before my feet, a road that I must walk on. I may move on, but I carry this home with me, in my heart, and no matter where my road takes me, that doorway of Shady Creek will always be at the beginning. A beginning I will never forget.

– White Wolf, inter naturalist at Shady Creek Outdoor School

Naturalists’ Day Off

Posted by on Mar 17, 2015 in Naturalist Blog | 0 comments

Madison Station CafeWhat do the naturalists of Shady Creek do when they find themselves with no students at the camp? They go visit students at their schools.

A couple of weeks ago, myself and eight other naturalists went to visit three schools and have some fun in the city. Our first stop was Excelsior School. We got there just in time to catch the second half of recess. Some of us, like myself, learned how to play wall ball. Others were challenged to a game of knock out. Madrone hung around and talked with students, questioning them about what they’d learned that morning. Yeti even got his hair french-braided! After recess we went into ConservaSean’s classroom to say hello to his fourth graders and lead them in a BOOMSHAKALAKA. Then we made our way into Wombat Wick’s room. We decided that we could not leave the room without singing a song, Scat. With one last BOOMSHAKALA in Wombat’s classroom, we left Excelsior.

It was lunchtime. Finding one place that nine different people like can be tough. Luckily for us, Chipotle has something for everyone. After eating, we still had about an hour before we needed to be at the next school (we were scheduled to do a program at Robla Elementary). We figured what better way is there to kill time than to grab some frozen yogurt with good company? Yeti, having grown up in Sacramento, knew the perfect place. Madison Station Café. And he was right. It was phenomenal!

After the froyo, we still had some time before we needed to be at Robla. What now? With Westside School just five minutes down the road, it was a no brainer. We ran in for a brief visit to Woodpecker’s classroom to give the students some love. That detour put us at the perfect time to head to Robla.

Robla SchoolAt Robla we put on an assembly for third through sixth graders. After greeting the students with high-fives, we called on sixth graders to share out loud about their favorite parts of Shady Creek, and let the third, fourth, and fifth graders know what to expect when they come up to Shady Creek in future years. Throughout the presentation we sang the songs Wild Thing, Bats Eat Bugs, and Scat. Ending the assembly, and their school day, with a BOOMSHAKALKA, we left Robla.

School was out but the naturalists were not done. We were in Sacramento. There were still adventures to be had! With visits to Dimple Records, Thrift Town, and the arcade at Sun Splash, we rounded off our packed day with some shopping and playing. Here is what we ended up with:

Movies – $12.00
CDs & records – $15.27
Audio book – $7.99
Pair of boots – $20.00
Circular floor rug – $50.00
Fuzzy leopard hat – $2.99
Several rounds of arcade games – $30.00
Spending time with the students – Priceless

Bethany ‘Echo’ Thomas
Naturalist, Shady Creek Outdoor School

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.”