Went to another Wonder Bugs program at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center today in Monona, WI.
These programs were designed, implemented and evaluated (gosh I sound like my graduate thesis!) by this amazing woman!
Anyway, today's program was on tracking. As you know I just did a birthday party on tracking and we have done a lot of tracking on our own, so I was curious how this would be different. What would Sam learn or be exposed to that she hadn't before? The program did not disappoint.
They started out just looking at track pictures, talking about what a track is and how they are made. BUT real animal mounts were used to show how feet are different. The kids could look at a real beaver foot compared to a duck foot to see how the tracks would be different. So cool.
After the introduction the kids were encouraged to explore the room where the instructor had made big posters of her own tracks showing different types of movement; jumping with two feet, walking feet close together, taking big steps, walking on hands and feet, etc. The kids were told to try and copy the tracks, make their feet step only where the tracks were. The idea may have been a little bit over some of the kids heads (Sam included) but they all really got into trying.
We all then bundled up and headed outside. The hike had a destination in mind, which is great for little ones, but she made stops for activities along the way, which is AWESOME!
One thing I love about certain nature centers is the idea that some things can be hands on. Of course there are mounts that can't be touched or certain things that are off limits to the public but then there are other things that can be used, manipulated and handled. Things that kids aren't accustomed to.
Sam got to make deer tracks today. With a REAL deer leg.
Another neat activity that the kids did along the hike was to try and figure out how a certain track was made. Our teacher had all the kids close their eyes and then she sat down in the snow, making a print with her body in the snow. She stood back up and told the kids to open their eyes. Then she asked leading questions about how the print was made. It was fun to watch the kids try to figure it out. Each family was then given the opportunity to try this out for ourselves. Sam went first and I closed my eyes. She sat down just like the teacher had done and then told me to open my eyes. She told me what she had done before I could guess but it was still a neat activity for her to experience.
We reached the pond on the grounds to look for fresh tracks and let the kids run around. Sam loves digging for the ice on frozen ponds so she really enjoyed herself. We found some great tracks and then headed back inside.
There was a great snack, some books for the kids to look at and some other track activities that the kids could do when they were done with snack. Sam enjoyed what she was eating too much to do any other activities!
It was a great tracking program that combined indoor activities with a great outdoor experience.
The Nitty Gritty!
We have done five public programs now and one thing that I have noticed is that there are two kinds of parents. Those that actively participate and those that stand at the back just being observers. But what is best for the children? What helps them to get the most out of the experience? Is it better to get involved, be active with them and encourage them or is it better for them to take the initiative and feel independent of their parent?
I am still trying to answer these questions. Unlike the Botanical Garden programs that we went to (here, here and here) the programs at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center give parents the opportunity to figure it out for their individual child. These programs are designed in a way that allows the parent to either be active or to obseve. I am still feeling it out with Sam. Sometimes she needs my guidance and sometimes she needs me to step back and let her be independent. With the program today it was very easy for me to be right there participating with Sam when I wanted to or when she needed me to. But the leader was also attentive enough with the kids that parents could play the role as observer at different points.
So what does all this mean? My advice from two different perspectives -
For parents: Do not attend public education programs of any kind expecting that this will be a break, a rest from parenting. Go with the expectation of being involved, of learning and doing the activities with your child. Then as the program goes on read your child. You know their cues, their level of shyness and hesitation in new environments. Only you will understand when they need to be encouraged and when they need to be left alone. But always start out engergetic and active!
For educators: At the beginning of the program instruct parents to get involved. Remind them that some children need the reassurance of their parents before they will feel comfortable enough to participate. Encourage them to have fun and learn right along side their child. Design programs that make it possible for parents to be involved OR step aside. Be prepared to take charge of children that have parents playing observer but also be prepared to include in games or other activities those parents that are participating with their children. Be flexible!