By Jessica Johnsrud, Woodland Dunes’ Education Coordinator
One of the greatest pleasures of my job is sharing nature with young children. For many of the kids attending field trips at Woodland Dunes, this is their first experience spending time in the forest or in a wetland. I’ve made it a habit at the beginning of programs, to ask the kids if they’ve walked in the forest before, and many shake their heads no.
I consider it a bit of an honor to show a child the wonders of nature. For many of the fall programs, we use Willow Trail and part of Goldenrod Loop as our outdoor classroom. When we walk down the trail, I ask the kids to notice nature using their “nature eyes.” I emphasize that while we are noticing nature, we want to make sure we use quieter voices and we don’t pick, squish (except mosquitoes) or throw anything. Since many of the kids haven’t spent time in nature, they aren’t sure how to behave. It takes a little time to walk down the trail to get to the areas where we do activities. I relish this time, listening to the kids’ chatter about their observations.
This fall, I’ve been keeping a list of some of the things they say. Young children are naturally curious and are fascinated by simple things that we, as adults, take for granted. Here are a few of the highlights from the last couple of weeks. All of these comments are from children ages 3-7 years old. “I didn’t know Woodland Dunes was going to be this beautiful!” “This is the best day ever!” When asked why trees are our friends, a young child answered, “because they make the world beautiful.”
As we walked down the trail, I heard squeals of delight. “Look! Look! The leaves are falling!” I turned around and the children were watching the breeze carry leaves away from the surrounding trees. The leaves gently twirled down to the ground and some even landed near our group, which caused more squeals of delight.
I was reviewing the parts of a tree with first graders and there was an old tree stump next to us. Suddenly one of the kids exclaimed, “Wow! A slug! I’ve never seen a slug before!” Then all the kids proceeded to encircle the wood and quietly watched the slug, mystified as it left behind a trail of slime.
It truly is a joy to hear their comments and witness how they engage with nature. It also reminds me to try to see the natural world through their eyes and with a renewed appreciation for the simple things.
Photos – Jessica Johnsrud. Autumn trees and the Goodwin Road trails at Woodland Dunes