Accessing nature for lifelong learning

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADuring my volunteer stint at a nearby nature center, which is part of a public park, I observed the people coming in and out. Many of them were focused on using the restroom, but many others did take time to look at the exhibits or ask questions of the staff members and volunteers. The visitors ranged from little ones in strollers to senior citizens equipped with binoculars and guidebooks. And another group was involved in a bird banding program with one of the naturalists, who has made some notable discoveries herself as a bander of hummingbirds.  Even though the park abuts a major highway and transportation center with noise from trucks and freight trains, it’s a wetland oasis of green with resident animals–waterbirds songbirds, turtles, snakes, frogs, and a few wary weasels.

Regardless of their ages, everyone was enjoying a beautiful day out of doors at many different levels. That led to a conversation among us about the value of outdoor experiences and using the natural world as a platform for lifelong learning.

There is a wealth of information about nature-related projects that can be implemented in schools and communities. For example, the SciStarter site featured on the NSTA home page describes citizen-science projects that involve students in real investigations and data collection.  I’ve found a few others entlythat might be of interest:

Many teachers and schools plant vegetable gardens as a way of teaching young children about plants and nutrition. School Gardens for the Birds describes another focus for school gardens—adding plants that attract birds and insects. has several live cams that let viewers “visit” different places. (I especially like the osprey cam in Maine). The information about each indicates the best time for live viewing. These could be used to fine-tune observations skills or as discussion prompts.

Bird Tales describes a program that brings the natural outdoor world of birds to people living with dementia. Watch this video clip to see how people’s eyes light up when they see and listen to birds. Their smiles indicate that they are enjoying the interactions with nature. The program resources and guides can be purchased at a minimal cost. Could this be a community service project for interested students or service clubs?



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