Creating the right setting for nature education is no big deal, right? You just take the kids to the forest and set them loose. Or maybe you seize upon one animal that you know kids love and teach them all about it, becoming a live version of one of those "DK" books. Well, you could do either of those things, and everything would probably be fine, but you will have missed an opportunity.
That opportunity is what we at Marin GreenPlay Camp spend much time thinking about and constructing our program around. We believe that nature is best understood when the learner starts with a very broad focus and then moves to a more fine one on his or her own terms. For this reason, all of our camp weeks focus on habitats, not specific creatures. Here are some of the reasons why we do this.
First, when you start with the creatures themselves, you tend to view them in isolation, disconnected from what they eat, what eats them, why they live where they do, and more. Immediately, you have the wrong idea about how nature works, how it is a system of interconnected parts, the sum of which is much more than the whole due to the synergistic effects of, for example, animals working together to survive (symbiosis).
Next, when you go directly to the creatures you also tend to focus more on naming them. Even adults have a hard time remembering the names of plants and animals without some contextual memory aids. Combined with the fact that many animals and plants have been named arbitrarily such that their names don't bear much resemblance to their characteristics, focusing on names is a recipe for boredom. For this reason, at Marin GreenPlay Camp, our guides will not name anything that they cannot bring to life with unforgettable anecdotes.
Finally, sharks (to continue with this example) are incredible creatures and worth learning about for sure, but they are all but inaccessible to our campers. Even the Leopard Sharks which prowl Richardson Bay eating smaller fish and crabs are unlikely to be seen except while in a kayak. By focusing our attention on habitats, such as the gloriously muddy shores of the Bay at low tide or the sky high Coast Redwood forest or the foggy green valley that is Green Gulch Farm, we can start to see patterns that will teach us who lives there with who, what grows there and why. And then we get to decide which creatures spark our interest because we found them ourselves, under a rock, landing on a flower or singing from a tree branch.
When we discover a creature ourselves, with our own eyes and during our own explorations, we'll never forget that experience. The curiosity about that creature that naturally comes forth ("Why is this roly poly that I found purple?!"), can then be nurtured by our loving and enthusiastic guides.
As always, we'd love your feedback. See you on the trail!