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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Celebrating 5 Years of Educating Children Outdoors in Vermont

In central Vermont we are welcoming in another school year with stunning foliage, warm days and the ongoing chorus of crickets and katydids. Here at the North Branch Nature Center we are celebrating our 5th year of ECO- Educating Children Outdoors. This year we are welcoming Alex Rob and Carrie Riker to our ECO team. Carrie and Alex bring years of experience leading children outdoors and a passion for connecting children to our rich landscape here in Vermont. We are also thrilled to expand ECO to a new school, Calais Elementary! During the 2014-15 school year ECO will be in 7 schools, reaching 463 children and 40 teachers with a standards based nature immersion program.

Small group work in the forest
In these past five years we have been inspired by all the teachers, parents and of course the students we work with by being immersed in nature throughout the seasons. As a classroom community we are learning with children on a continuous basis through ECO. We are also developing long lasting relationships with students and the green spaces that we visit each week.  Whether it’s sitting around a fire on a chilly winter day, witnessing spring ephemerals unfold or watching skeins of geese fly south, students and teachers are experiencing phenology in an active way that connects them to the place they live in. When asked why we live here in Vermont, most people reference the values of our state that we love so much. The mountains, crimson red maple trees, the change of seasons, clean lakes to swim in, local food, deep snow, family traditions, and small towns with a big community feel.

Through ECO we want to help our students to foster a love for Vermont that will last their entire lives. I can’t think of a better way to do that then to help them understand where they live by introducing them to the natural world that surrounds us and all its wonders.

So, what do children know about the natural world in Vermont? First and second graders at Moretown Elementary can easily name at least 10 native species of animals and what their distinguishing characteristics are. Children at Union Elementary will be able to tell you later this month about the history of stonewalls and their importance in shaping our agricultural heritage.  It may appear that third graders were only playing hide and seek in various locations on the East Montpelier school property last week, but really they are studying habitats from the ground up. What better way to start a lesson than with hiding in 3 different habitats?  If you need a map of Twinfield’s forested trails you can always ask an ECO student. This year students will be become cartographers.

Kindergartners at any of our participating schools will surprise you as well. These are our youngest students and they know where every animal home is in the forest, they can build you a squirrel drey or a giant eagles nest. They will be the first to tell you that in nature we “hurt no living thing”. So be careful where you step and hold that insect ever so carefully.

At the end of a day learning in the forest we feel a sense of joyful exhausted accomplishment. We are also reminded that children will only protect what they love and they will only love what they know.
We know Vermont and we love it.

What is 20? Showing our mathematical thinking.

Symmetry in nature

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