I had my first experience with Puddle Stompers at the refuge this morning. It’s a program to get really young kids out in nature and, hopefully, to have them pick up some appreciation for the wild things living there. Since it is frequently rainy during these adventures, little froggy raincoats and boots are usually provided; hence, the name Puddle Stompers.There were no puddles today because we’re having a two-day heatwave.
The age group is loosely 2.5 to 5 years. So if you have a plan in your head to communicate some content and information about nature, habitats, birds–like I did–be prepared to let go of that preconception. I planned to read a story from a children’s book about an eaglet. After all, we have an eaglet growing up smack in the middle of the refuge, and the nest is visible from nearly everywhere. I learned, however, that when you have 15 kids arrayed on carpet squares on the floor in front of you it’s 15 completely different little states of mind without any discernible common thread. They called out comments, asked questions about pictures on the wall, and raised their hands for attention, any attention. Half way through my little book about the eaglet I said, “And the little eagle jumped out of the nest and flew away. The end!”
I then decided to get them to stand up for an engaging comparison between people and birds starting with the top of the head and working down to eyes, ears, arms, and so on. We were together in comparing the hair on our own heads with feathers on birds’ heads, but then a little fellow proclaimed that birds have funny feet. I was thinking, “Kid, don’t you get it? I’m trying to do something systematic here!” But instead I quickly switched to talking about talons and how it helps birds grasp limbs and their food. Then, while squinting at me and touching the side of her eye, a girl switched the subject to how owls have big eyes. Okay, back to the head and how owls and eagles have really good eyesight and hearing. After a lame effort to liken my arms to wings with a flapping motion, I knew that, once again, it was time to change strategies. “What do you say we get out of this room and go for a walk on the refuge?” There were no objections to that.
The walk of part of the refuge trail was the big success of the morning. By then I pretty much knew what to expect…something very much like herding cats. But in the open space of the refuge there was plenty of room to dissipate energy.
When our little exploration ended I was kind of dazed. My brain had been on overload trying to keep up with what was the right thing to do with my energetic band from minute to minute. I’m not sure what the kids learned. I know I learned a lot, and, upon reflection and after a cold beer, I pronounce it a very worthwhile and successful morning.