School Days

School Days

By

Eileen Berger Indian Trail Master Naturalist

Just as the school year has begun for students, it has also started for our Master Naturalist education team.Education about nature and the environment is one of the goals for Master Naturalists. Today we began teaching the pre-K and kindergarten students at Ovilla Christian School. We are again using the award-winning materials from Project Wild, specifically Growing Up Wild. The older children look forward to our return each year and enthusiastically greet us in the hallway before we can even get to the classroom. We have added a new member to our team, and are missing one of our former teammates due to work commitments. We hope that she will return next year.

Our first lesson was about leaves. For the younger children who have only been in school for a few weeks, I like to get very basic at the beginning. My first question had to do with whether they were animals. Most all of them declared vehemently that they were not animals! I then pointed out that I was an animal, a human, and that they were also animals. If they were not animals, then the only other choice would be plants. They all agreed that they were animals. Then we discussed the fact that generally animals can move from one place to another, while generally, plants do not move from where they are growing. While there are exceptions to these statements, we do not delve into that with young children. We distributed a large assortment of tree leaves to each group of children at their table, and examined the leaves carefully. We discussed the purpose of the leaves, and talked about animals that eat leaves. The students traced their leaves on paper with a crayon, and then drew the veins. I asked the students if they ate leaves, and, you guessed it, they said, “No!” We then brought out some samples of herbs such as rosemary, oregano, and mint. I mentioned that these herbs were sometimes used for cooking, and then passed out arugula, a salad green. We tasted the leaf of arugula, and then discussed other leaves that humans often eat, especially lettuce and spinach. Teaching young children is very rewarding because of the sense of wonder that they display. Their enthusiasm and curiosity is infectious.

We also work once a week with students at Pettigrew Academy, a Montessori school in Waxahachie. The students are grouped by age into two groups for the Project Wild/Growing Up Wild lessons. Here again, we established some basic information with both groups. Our first lesson had to do with introducing ourselves and my learning the new students’ names. We meet in the well-equipped science room, which opens to the extensive school grounds. We next took a walk around the grounds to observe and take a survey ofthe wildlife that live there. My returning students led the way by pointing out ants, snails, grasshoppers, lizards, and even a small snake which was residing under a stepping stone. I can tell you that the students are highly motivated to turn over rocks, logs, and anything else in hopes of unearthing something to add to the list. We also looked to the sky and treetops to spy a vulture, sparrows, and a cardinal. We saw signs of an opossum or an armadillo having dug for insects. In the future, we will add elements of shelter, food, and water sources to provide a richer habitat to encourage more diversity in the wildlife. The students will be collecting plants to press and preserve for mounting. Then we will visit the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, BRIT, for a tour of the herbarium. We will be learning to identify some of the common birds in the area, as well as native trees. In the spring we will have a unit on water to include wetlands, with a field trip to John Bunker Sands Wetlands Center.

Our Master Naturalist chapter hopes to be able to serve more schools in the future, as our membership grows. If you know of a school that would be interested in the programs, contact our Texas A&M AgriLife Office.

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