Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Shaping Future Conservationists

“If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it.”
- David Sobel, Author of Beyond Ecophobia

Testing out their binoculars for bird watching.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Last week I got to join in on my first school field trip at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, WA. The day’s group was an inspiring, energetic, and adorable group of 7-9 year olds from NE Portland’s King School. King School boasts a culturally rich and diverse student body with a passion for nature. This year, children enrolled in their extended school year are spending time learning about birding. The group of about 60 kids arrived to the refuge, binoculars and bird watching guides at the ready, accompanied by wide eyes ready to spot as many birds as possible.

Stopping to check out some insects along the trail.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Excitement, Not Fear
One of the greatest fears of conservationists around the globe is that children are not being given the passion for, and opportunity to experience nature. On this day at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, this concept would have been hard to believe. “A giant spiderweb!!” one of the girls screamed as our group walked along one of the many trails inside the refuge. Expecting to turn around and see this girl running for cover, I was pleasantly surprised that her scream was of excitement rather than fear. I watched as she pulled out her binoculars and pushed them so close to the web, almost two-feet in radius, I thought she might have gotten tangled up in it herself. As the rest of the group quickly gathered to get their close-up of the web, I looked back to my childhood, deathly afraid of spiders and wondered why I wasn’t as brave as these kids when I was their age.

Part of the ant colony!
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Making Nature A Friend
The rest of the day was no different. These kids weren’t afraid to get dirty, they weren’t afraid of picking up ants and letting them crawl around on their hands, and they definitely were not afraid to direct traffic around a tiny caterpillar crawling along the trail, making sure to keep it safe from our feet.

Later, the group was brought into the Cathlapotle Plankhouse to learn about a life dependent on the land. Hands shot up in the air as Katie, our Plankhouse guide, asked the children about possible ways to eat, craft tools, and sleep when local plants and animals were the only available resources. “If everyone lived in this one big house, they would get a lot more work done!” responded one of the group when asked about the benefits of living with a large group in the plankhouse. The students ended their day with a lunch out in the grass, where the sight of birds flying by was much more satisfying than the cookies in their lunch boxes.

Spotted a Great Blue Heron off in the distance.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
A Future in Good Hands
With the services provided by Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge, and the energy, time and dedication of the King School teachers and chaperones to provide children the opportunity to get outside, this great group of kids showed a clear love for the Earth. Upon leaving the refuge that day, I couldn’t help but feel much less fearful for the future of our planet if I knew these children from King School were to be involved in it.

For more information on Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge and their programs, please visit their site or the Friends of the Refuge website.

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