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From the December 2010 Conservationist

A group of children taking notes in a field

Hands-on Nature

New reources help educators connect youth with the outdoors

By Gina Jack

If you look at any outdoor educator's bookshelf, you're sure to see an array of materials: essentials like Rachel Carson's The Sense of Wonder and Freeman Tilden's Interpreting our Heritage, modern classics like Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods, plus field guides to anything and everything under the sun, and even to the sun and the stars themselves.

A group of teachers sitting on the grass listening to a workshop leader
DEC offers Project WILD, Project WET
and PLT workshops year-round. The
hands-on workshops are free and run three
to six hours long. (Photo: Susan L. Shafer)

On my bookshelf, sandwiched between Dr. Seuss's The Lorax and Palmer and Fowler's Fieldbook of Natural History, are a few other indispensible resources: curriculum and activity guides from Project WILD (Wildlife in Learning Design), Project WET (Water Education for Teachers), and Project Learning Tree (PLT). I refer to all of them frequently. They are invaluable to me, and to many of my colleagues, as we strive to connect children and youth to the natural world.

This year I added two new manuals to my collection: Project WILD's Growing Up WILD and Project Learning Tree's Environmental Experiences for Early Childhood. Both give adults who work with young children (aged three to six years old) the tools to feel comfortable taking them outdoors to explore the natural world. Early childhood is a crucial time of life for exposure to the outdoors: a time to build on natural curiosity through hands-on experiences.

These and other resources are available to educators simply by participating in a lively hands-on professional development workshop, each focused on a single curriculum and activity guide. Project WILD, Project WET and PLT are internationally acclaimed resources for educators. In New York State, DEC is the agency which coordinates program delivery and offers the workshops. Workshops are free, are generally three to six hours long, and are offered year-round. During the workshops, participants try out some of the activities and learn how to integrate the curricula, aligned to New York State curriculum and learning standards, into their existing lessons. These programs meet state and national standards for early childhood education.

A young boy in a yellow shirt holding a yellow and black butterfly
Photo: Sandra Turner

The addition of resources for use with younger children extends the range of WILD's and PLT's programs, already acclaimed for their value in developing an understanding of the outdoors and natural processes among youth. Activities for younger students-early childhood and elementary grades-build awareness of the world around them. For middle and high school students, a greater proportion of the activities relate to the effects that people have on their environment and what we can all do to minimize negative effects while promoting the positive.

DEC has been offering professional development workshops for teachers for almost 25 years. In recent years, DEC educators and workshop facilitators trained by DEC have introduced more than 4,000 teachers to these resources annually. With each of these individuals reaching 20 or more students each school year, the multiplier effect is tremendous. If you are a classroom teacher, youth group leader or daycare provider and are interested in taking part in a workshop, get more information and a list of scheduled workshops.

Gina Jack is an environmental educator with DEC in Albany, and is the editor of Conservationist for Kids. She was a Project WILD facilitator in the 1990s in Ontario, Canada, and has been a Project WILD facilitator in NY since 2009.