Giving Children a "Wild" Start

By Eileen  Berger, Texas Master Naturalist

When you were a child, if you were lucky, there was an adult who took you into the natural world and showed you lizards, birds, trees, wildflowers and many other wondrous things.  For me, it was my father. He grew up on a farm and studied forestry at Penn State.  He was a bird watcher; but also knew much about conservation as he worked for what is now the Natural Resources Conservation Service.  That early exposure to nature is probably why I am so interested in preserving our natural environment and educating today’s children about the natural world.

As Master Naturalists, we have participated in the award-winning Project Wild training program that provides creative ways for adults to educate children about nature’s diversity.  The program is jointly sponsored by the Council for Environmental Education and the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

At the Texas Master Naturalist conference last fall, several Indian Trail Chapter members became certified in the Project Wild program entitled Growing Up Wild that focuses on early childhood education (ages 3-7). We gained experience in using a wide range of activities that help children gain positive impressions about nature and lifelong social and academic skills.  As a result of that training, we began working with pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade students at Ovilla Christian School this spring.  Many of the lessons involved nature walks, games, crafts, songs, and used models and actual examples from nature. The classroom teachers reported that their students could not wait to have another visit from the “nature teachers”.  The Growing Up Wild program was aligned with subjects that students had studied or would study during the year, and the activities were well-suited for the ages with which we worked. This program is used in many schools throughout the United States.

As a result of our success with the young children, we were eager to become certified to use the entire program, designed for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.  Our Chapter project leader, Rebecca Schumacher, helped organize a training program that attracted teachers, Scout leaders, YMCA personnel as well as Master Naturalists.  Participants received background information, explanations of the lessons and engaged in several of the activities included in the extensive manual and CD received.

We are excited about the nature focus and skill-building dimensions of the program and have already put our training into practice at Red Oak Library.  If you are involved with youth whether in a school setting,  Boy or Girl Scouts, or other youth organizations, and wish to have a visit or a continuing program by our trained volunteers, contact the Indian Trail Master Naturalist Chapter by calling the AgriLife Extension Service at 972-825-5175 or email ellis-tx@tamu.edu.  For information about Project Wild, call (713) 520-1936 or email info@projectwild.org.

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