Thursday, October 15, 2009

At Least the Kids had Fun

This fall I agreed to do an aftershool program at one of our local schools. Nature hikes, that's what they wanted, so I said "Sure!" At this time of year, first graders are really just big kindergarteners, and most of the group is in first grade; the oldest is in fourth grade, and there's only one. Needless to say, I have my hands full!

Yesterday was our third program, and thankfully the sun was out (sort of), so we went for our hike (last week we made journals inside, thanks to the rain). As soon as they were out the door, they took off, heading right for the oak tree in front of the school.

Acorns were picked up by the handful and stuffed into pockets, but the big ticket item was the acorn caps. Why? Because one of the most important things you can take into the woods with you is a whistle, and if you forgot your whistle, you can always make one with an acorn cap! I taught them this on our first hike, and once they learned how to do it, well, let's just say it was a big hit.

We walked down the hill to the nature trail behind the local library. The gravel parking area was full of maple keys, and even though they were all dried out, I showed them how to split the seed end and stick them on their noses.

Milkweed pods are still quite green up here, but that didn't stop the kids from pocketing fistsful of them as well. Pods were soon ripped open to expose the not-quite-ripe-yet seeds inside.

Along the creek we encountered a common merganser. As you can probably guess, the kids just couldn't stand there quietly and watch. The poor bird swam upstream as rapdily as it could to escape the screaming horde, then turned tail and ran down stream, much to the shrieking delight of my charges.

We checked out the beaver dams, smelled the wild thyme, and drew in our newly made journals. By 4:00 it had become quite chilly out, so we headed back towards the school to meet the buses.

I find these programs to be very draining - two hours with a dozen little kids fresh out of school is enough to wear anyone out! You have to have eyes on the front, back and sides of your head to keep track of them all, and they all want your attention NOW. They'll ask a question non-stop until you give them your attention to answer, but they won't wait to hear what the answer actually is. At the end of the day I'm usually just glad that we all survived the experience and no one was hurt. But then I hear them the next week talking about what they learned the week before, or they come up to me and say "I can't wait until next week," or "How many more programs do we have, because I want to do this every week," and I realize that even though I can't see it at the time, these kids are really getting something out of these programs.

And, y'know, that makes it all worthwhile.


  1. Please be assured that your work with these kids matters a lot. So many kids never have the chance to be amazed or amused by nature. Who knows what budding naturalists you may have inspired?

  2. I am so impressed, you are giving them a gift that they will have for a lifetime. Keep up the good work!

  3. Yes, you are experiencing what I have had daily since 1995 ... and when you step back and analyze it, you'll be really glad for the experience. These kids are sponges, and you are the food that is feeding their minds, which soak up stuff so fast! Sometimes I think my own four never hear a thing I teach them, and then out of the blue they amaze me, regurgitating something they were taught months, even years ago. It's very rewarding. Bask in the glory, dear sister. You are giving to the future!