Yesterday I had my first full-immersion experience as a Volunteer Naturalist working with school children. Fifty-five third-grade kids were bused to the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge from a local elementary school, and our job was to introduce them to the wonders of nature.
I had in my imagination that we could perform some level of instruction and convey some organized information. Not so! One of my fellow newbie naturalists half-way through the morning said what we were all thinking: “It’s controlled chaos!”
So it is with third-graders. There was supposed to be a schedule and a kind of structure with groups cycling through several activities, but that was soon replaced with swirling groups of kids loosely under the supervision of teachers and parent monitors.
I was “shadowing” the pond life study activity. We got there early and scooped creatures out of our two ponds with nets and put them in white plastic dishpans for viewing. We separated out a few frog tadpoles and newt larvae into Petri dishes for easier viewing under eye-loops.
These kids were certainly “hands-on.” They gathered head-to-head around the dishpans and were immediately engaged with noisy excitement. They wanted to touch everything. After peering into the pans and having us respond to “What’s that!?” every time they spotted something new wiggling, they wanted to plunge in and catch pollywogs bare-handed. The most fascinating challenge of the day for them was seeing who could scoop up the best tadpole or insect larvae and let it wiggle in their hand. One dark haired girl, so enthusiastic and energetic that she elbowed classmates out of the way, kept proclaiming as she pulled something out, “It’s so cute!” I don’t think there was a complete consensus about that, but we naturalists certainly weren’t inclined to dispute the matter with someone so captivated by pond creatures.
The only picture I took yesterday was of the school bus at the top of the page. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has a bunch of regulations about getting photo releases from people photographed on their property. While I want to take pictures for this blog, I’ve agreed not to take pictures of people while representing the service in my Volunteer Naturalist role. I figured the bus was safe. That doesn’t mean I can’t take off my little blue vest and wander around as an ordinary citizen taking photos at public events. I’ll work it out.