As an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving at Bluegrass Greensource, my primary duties often have me behind the scenes and in the office. But from time to time, I get to tag along with BGGS’ enthusiastic and capable environmental educators. These outings provide invaluable insights into the impact hands-on science education can have on young minds. My recent involvement in field trips to the Dupree Nature Preserve has reminded me of the importance of access to green spaces, to knowledgeable mentors, and to well-facilitated instruction.
I got the opportunity to participate in a scavenger hunt activity in which I led groups of third and fourth grade students from Camp Dick and Nicholasville Elementary, along a trail through tall grass and forested area near the Kentucky River. Students were keen to observe and interact with real-life samples of plants, rocks, birds, mantises, and even spiders. Additionally, students were able to provide some of their own expertise, identifying tracks where animals such as deer had moved through the area, drawing on their own experiences with hiking and hunting.
Students also participated in miniature raft-building exercises, interacted with animal pelts and skulls, and learned about watersheds by creating their own in a pan. The teachers that accompanied the students on the field trips told me that this is one of their favorite outings of the year because it is often the only opportunity that many of the students get to access and learn about green spaces in a meaningful way. And the beautiful idea that struck me was that these students were not just going on yet another nature tour, but rather critically observing and interacting with their environment in a way that transcends a traditional classroom. Mushrooms growing on trees, the lay of the land, the flow of water, the buoyancy of a twig, all become powerful educational opportunities.
I’m grateful to have been a part of the Dupree Days activities, and to witness the curiosity and enthusiasm of young Kentucky students. It is my hope that BGGS and The Nature Conservancy can continue to provide educational programs like these in order to ensure that our young learners have purposeful learning opportunities outside the four walls of a classroom. And maybe I’ll get to escape the office and learn a thing or two myself!