Love of Learning: Observations of Environmental Education

In order to be a great educator, you have to love learning.

Educators need their own sense of adventure, curiosity and excitement about their subject in order to transfer it to their students. Rachel Carson outlined the importance of this idea well with this quote:

If a child is to keep alive their inborn sense of wonder, they need the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with them the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.

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Frick Environmental Center education team members. 

At the Frick Environmental Center, we offer programming that connects children to nature in the city, and encourages them to explore and learn about their local environment.  For some students, our programs are their first experience in a wild setting and a whole new world is revealed to them. They see the relationship between themselves, their community and the environment in a new light.

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Environmental Center educators observing the local flora.

I love being the adult that introduces kids to nature. Like many of you, getting outside with my parents, scout masters and teachers led to a lifetime appreciation and commitment to the environment. Their enthusiasm about nature and the outdoors was contagious. As an educator, I want to recreate that with my students.

Earlier this month, the Parks Conservancy’s education team attended the Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Educators conference at Lake Raystown Lodge.  It was amazing to be in such a beautiful setting, surrounded by educators from across the state that shared our passion for nature and environmental education. The conference was an opportunity to meet new people, reconnect with colleagues, share experiences and expertise, and gain new ideas for our programs. Workshops covered a wide range of topics including the value of nature play, leading an interpretive hike, and connecting with the outdoors using technology.

For me, the best workshops balanced big picture education philosophy, practical mechanics of program delivery, and the opportunity for us to participate in activities as students. In a particularly amazing nature journaling workshop, an impassioned educator stressed that nature journaling should go beyond impartial scientific observations to capture students’ experiences and feelings. For her, a successful journal entry should recreate and transport a student back to a moment in time. She provided tips on preparing students to be comfortable, capturing information through writing and drawing, and using all of our senses to make observations.

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Journaling at the PAEE conference.

 

When we put her tips into practice by going out to journal, I was reminded of the value of taking time to stop and wait for the world to reveal itself.  I was also reminded how easy it is to forget instructions and lose focus in a cold drizzle; how hard it is to sit silent and still for 10 minutes; and how awkward it can feel to share a drawing you’re not particularly proud of. It gave me a better understanding of the students I work with and an appreciation that what really matters is providing an experience.

The conference gave me an opportunity to recharge, reconnect, and revisit why I do what I do. It reaffirmed that the most important thing I can do as an educator is to share my own love of nature.

Taiji Nelson, Naturalist Educator

What’s the Word in Homewood? Buzzword!

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Heron perched in Panther Hollow Lake.

Let’s imagine for a moment that we’re reading a children’s book all about our city’s parks. The colorful pictures on each page would illustrate and introduce you to trees and plants in our parks: sycamores and horse chestnuts, beeches and ferns. You would probably also meet some of the local residents: wrens, thrushes, maybe some larks. Perhaps a kingfisher or heron, if the book visits Panther Hollow Lake or Nine Mile Run.

Now, grab a giant imaginary eraser. Erase those plants and birds. And half of the words. Erase all of the letters, except for one or two. And really, anything about those pictures that seems familiar. What do you think of this book now? How does this change your understanding of the parks?

This storybook scenario isn’t fiction for many kids. Today’s youngest generation experiences what has been called nature deficit disorder, a disconnect from the natural world around them. Many find themselves on the wrong side of the reading gap when they start school. Studies have shown that children from lower-income homes may know only one or two letters of the alphabet when entering kindergarten, compared to children in middle-class households who will know all 26. And when they do learn to read, they may find that words like ‘attachment,’ ‘blog,’ and ‘broadband’ are deemed more relevant than ‘acorn,’ ‘beech,’ and ‘chestnut.’ (Not to mention all of those other nature words mentioned above: sycamore, horse chestnut, fern, wren, thrush, lark, kingfisher, and heron.)

Here in Pittsburgh, we’re changing the story. We’re looking for a happily ever after.

One word at a time, we’re working with Buzzword Pittsburgh and the Homewood community to bring the outdoors and all of the wonderful words that describe it to area youth. By exciting children and families to discover the world and words that are all around them, Buzzword is expanding children’s vocabulary and conversation skills. With the support of PNC Grow Up Great and alongside Carnegie Science Center, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, and Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Buzzword engages families and community organizations in Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood and the greater community.

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Homewood Nature in Your Neighborhood hike.

Starting this month, our Homewood Nature Educator Will is tag-teaming with Pittsburgh Ballet Theater for six weeks of free family sessions at Homewood-Brushton YMCA to learn words like ‘habitat,’ ‘observe,’ ‘senses,’ ‘garden,’ and many more. Additionally, we’ll be out and about on Nature in Your Neighborhood hikes showcasing the nature that’s all around us — wherever we live and play!

We hope that you’ll take part in these free and fun family programs. These programs are particularly designed for children younger than 10, but all ages are welcome. Find the full listing of activities on our calendar and the Buzzword website and join us to see what all the buzz is about!

Lead Your Child Outside: Fun, Affordable, and Family Friendly Happenings

Few voices have resonated deeper or carried further in the crusade to encourage kids to explore and find joy in nature than Richard Louv.

“We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. In my children’s memories, the adventures we’ve had together in nature will always exist.”
– Louv in Last Child in the Woods

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The Parks Conservancy is in the business of nature discovery. The hundreds of acres of public parkland within Pittsburgh are our classrooms; on dirt trails, in streams, and through meadows, our educators guide thousands of children to learn about the natural world around them. Last year, over 600 students from 1st through 12th grades made countless discoveries with our small but mighty team of educators in our park classrooms through our school programs.

This year, we’re joined by even more outstanding educators from the Frick Environmental Center. With these extra passionate nature lovers, we’re determined to leave no child inside. We invite you to lead your child outside and join us in enjoying our world-class outdoor spaces and battle nature deficit disorder with these family-friendly events:

Earth Day in Frick Park
“Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our chidlren’s health (and also, by the way, in our own).” 
Carrying on the longstanding tradition of the Frick Environmental Center, we’re jazzed to invite the entire community out for this annual celebration of Earth Day. This two-day party is all about spending time outside in the parks. Did we mention it’s free?! Here’s what you need to know:

Community Campfire
Saturday, April 12th
6 – 9pm
Pack your favorite campfire treats (s’mores, hot dogs, veggie dogs, and mountain pies are all fair game!), and we’ll provide the fire and roasting sticks. This is an all-ages community campfire under the stars is the perfect spot to spend time with your family on a Saturday night.

Nature Walks and Hikes
Sunday, April 13th
Every hour between 11:30am – 4pm
Sign up for any number of hikes with themes like Bald Eagle Nest Building, Critters in the Litter, Nature Story Hike – The Lorax, plus many more on this full day in Frick Park led by expert naturalists. No prior registration is necessary, but arrive early to sign up for preferred hikes.

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Ultimate Play Day
“If getting our kids out into nature is a search for perfection, or is one more chore, then the belief in perfection and the chore defeats the joy. It’s a good thing to learn more about nature in order to share this knowledge with children; it’s even better if the adult and child learn about nature together. And it’s a lot more fun.”
Let loose and play with the Pittsburgh Play Collaborative! We’re cooking up a day of fun, free activities in Oakland for kids and adults. Play on the Imagination Playground, run with giant cardboard soccer balls, crawl through the Lozziwurm, and of course, discover nature!

Sunday, April 27th
Schenley Plaza, Carnegie Museum of Art, and Carnegie Library
1 – 5pm

Summer Camps
“Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.”
Pittsburgh’s parks aren’t only our children’s classrooms. They’re also the coolest spots for summer vacation. Whether your young one is three or 13, we have an age-appropriate camp to challenge their skills and creativity. Camps run on a weekly basis, and the price can’t be beat. See which camps have openings here.

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PNC Carousel
“If you can’t live in the land you love, love the land you’re in.”
Bopping sea horses, humpty-backed camels, and mythical dragons make for imaginative family memories in faraway lands never forgotten. For less than the price of one video game, score your family a season pass to the PNC Carousel, valid for two adults and up to four children. The carousel is wheelchair accessible and open extended hours throughout the summer. Purchase your season pass here.

Get Outside!
“The Environmental Protection Agency now warns us that indoor air pollution is the nation’s number one environmental threat to health — and it’s from two to ten times worse than outdoor air pollution.”
Rally your family to make a long-term pledge to play outdoors. Be active, have fun — and go outside! Take the pledge with your family, organization, or neighborhood to connect to nature all year long. We think the best place to start is bringing the gang out to volunteer with us during one of our upcoming volunteer days.

See you outside!
All quotes from this blog are taken from Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods: Savings our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. Read more about Louv and Children and Nature Network here.
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