Building Cross-Age Environmental Education Collaborations

Collaboration between Fountain Hills Charter School & Prescott College’s Environmental Education Certification Course Students

Middle School students from Fountain Hills Charter School (FHCS) learn about environmental education using the outdoors as their classroom.

In October, the students spent three days at Tonto Creek Camp, which is north of Payson. The students participated in multiple learning modules including the amazing race adventure challenge, the low ropes course, STEM archery, stream & pond ecology, a nocturnal hike, wilderness survival, a hike to a waterfall, and a visit to a fish hatchery.

In November, the Fountain Hills Charter School 4th-8th grade students were partnered with Ms. Ellen Bashor’s students from Prescott College who are part of AAEE’s Environmental Education Certification Course. Together the FHCS and Prescott College students visited the Desert Outdoor Center, which overlooks Lake Pleasant. They experienced hands-on learning about edible plants in the Sonoran Desert, map skills using a compass, ecology around Lake Pleasant, microscopic aquatic life, invasive species, and desert survival.

December’s field experience took the FHCS students to Prescott. They first visited Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary where they learned about endangered animals like the black-footed ferrets. Next, they visited Watson Lake where their Prescott College buddies taught them about the lake, the native plants that grow around it, and the Save the Dells movement to preserve the iconic Granite Dells landscape. Afterwards, the college students gave the FHCS middle school students a personalized tour of Prescott College. One of the most impressive places was the warehouse where the college keeps all of the equipment for their outdoor adventure classes. The building houses supplies for camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, climbing, rappelling, search & rescue, and more.

Forming the cross-age collaboration made the hands-on learning opportunities even more meaningful and impactful. FHCS and Prescott College hope to continue the collaboration and help students of all ages develop valuable skills and become knowledgeable about the amazing natural resources we have in Arizona.

 

 

Joining Together To Celebrate Conservation Efforts

On January 19th, 2019 over 30 organizations joined together for a Conservation Expo hosted by OdySea Aquarium Foundation. The event was free to attend and taught guests about the amazing things local organizations are doing to help protect animals and the environment.

The Phoenix Zoo, Heritage Park Zoological Society, Phoenix Herpetological Society, Liberty Wildlife, Arizona Humane Society, Arizona Game & Fish Department, Rattlesnake Solutions, ASU DeNardo Lab, Fallen Feathers, Scottsdale Community College’s Center for Native & Urban Wildlife, and OdySea Aquarium brought animal ambassadors for guests to learn about.

Keep Scottsdale Beautiful & Keep Phoenix Beautiful taught people about reducing, reusing, recycling, and repurposing and the Adopt-a-Road program. Arizona Wildlife Federation encouraged guests to create sustainable gardens for wildlife. STORM (Stormwater Outreach for Regional Municipalities) explained that only water should go down the storm drains.

Plastic Pollution Prevention educated guests about the harmful effects of single-use plastics on marine life and the environment. Guests signed a pledge to reduce single-use plastics and were given a free reusable straw, straw cleaner, and travel pouch.

Youth for Troops and Tempe Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution showed guests how to make plarn out of plastic bags and crochet them into mats for the homeless. The American Cancer Society showed guests how to make reusable bags from old t-shirts.

CEDO (Center for the Study of Deserts & Oceans) Intercultural Research Institute came from Tucson and Mexico to teach people about the vaquita, which is the most critically endangered marine mammal with less than 30 left in the world.

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program taught people about sustainable fishing and making informed seafood choices. Blu Culinary Creations and Santa Monica Seafood made free sustainable fish tacos for guests.

Other organizations that brought information and interactive activities included: Aramark, ASU Center for Biodiversity Outcomes, Audubon Center, Butterfly Wonderland, Clean Air Make More, Event Network, North American Native Fishes Association, Project WET, Reid Park Zoo, SRPMIC CDD Environmental Protection & Natural Resources, Tonto Creek Camp, UofA’s Marine Awareness & Conservation Society (M.A.C.S.) Club, White Mountain Nature Center, and more.

Local students participated in a conservation art challenge and displayed their artwork at the Expo. Boy Scouts created the wooden organization signs from recycled pallets.

A survey showed that 99% of the guests surveyed said that they learned something new about conservation during the Expo and 98% of the guests surveyed said that they learned about organizations that they weren’t aware of before the Expo. There are so many great organizations working to protect animals and the environment. Together we can make a difference!

The Nature Camp Solution – Why, How, and WOW!

 

Author: Dr. Mariana Altrichter – Photographer: Peter Sherman

As an environmentalist and conservation biologist, I have been growing aware of the lack of interest among the adult population to make daily choices based on the welfare of environment. People seem to know about our pressing environmental issues, but do not translate this knowledge into behavior change. At the same time, as a mother of two young girls, I became more educated of the pervasive effects of screens and the importance of outdoor play for the overall health of children.

I realized that my girls had few opportunities to play outdoors with other kids. In our daily family excursions outdoors, I was surprised by the absence of young teens walking in the woods, biking on mountain trails, kayaking, or playing in the rocks (things that I definitely did when I was that age!). Where are they? I wondered… 

I decided to start a nature-based environmental education program in Prescott to inspire love for our natural world, love for outdoor adventures, and love for biodiversity. If these kids have fun in the woods now, I thought, in a few years from now they will be the teenagers enjoying the woods that I don’t see now; and my daughters will have a community of nature-loving friends.

Nature Camp: “All Children in the Woods” started in October 2014.  My underlying principles that permeate all activities we do in camp are respect and care for nature and each other, cooperation instead of competition, and nature is amazing. I design daily schedules based on a theme (i.e. “trees” or “monsoons” etc.) and follow a loose routine where I mix play, exploration, art, creativity, group games, songs, building, quiet solo time, journaling, and free time. I often bring a book related to the theme to read during quiet time.

 

 

We start with an opening circle where we greet each other and the woods, sing, and play big group games. Then we separate in two age groups: Bobcats 5-7 yrs old and Cougars 8-10 yrs old (although the 7 and 8 yr old kids can choose what group to join). Each group has one or two instructors, called at our camp, “coyotes”.

Each camper creates a special spot which they can decorate, build, and make personal in any way they want. I reduce the number of unnatural things I bring to camp to a minimum: shovels and buckets, toilet paper, bandannas and sometimes a rope. All other activities use only nature. We sit on the ground, eat our lunch on the ground or up in trees, go potty in the woods, play with dirt, pine needles, rocks. Thus, we spend 7 hours in the forest without hearing or seeing human infrastructure other than what we build ourselves.

The “learning” at camp often occurs organically, rather than directed, embedded in everything else. Although I create a schedule by the minute with detailed activities, I tell my “coyotes” that we have to be open to improvise or completely change course based on the children’s lead.

This is the advantage of not being tied to a curricula, or meeting standards. Just keeping the underlying principles, with basic “no hurting feelings, bodies, or nature” rules, the kids have plenty of space, time, and freedom to be creative, imaginative, and playful.

Indeed, often the most amazing, creative, and fun activities have come up spontaneously from the kids (not my detailed program!).  For example, while I was reading a book about settlers developing a town next to a river and polluting it in the process, one of the kids was fidgeting with the dirt and moving sticks and pebbles around. Although I was a little annoyed that he was “distracting the group away from my reading” I allowed him to continue and by the end of the book he said, “Look, I am building here a settlement where people and nature live together. Do you want to help me?”.

This became the most epic group building cooperative project ever! The whole day they built homes, created miniature forest among the houses, made lakes and rivers, built a “community center,” all while talking, negotiating, deciding as a group, cooperating. I was at the verge of tears the whole time, feeling, “This is it; this is magical!”

Since I started this program, we have had about 190 days in the forest and about 300 children have participated. Several of the older kids who “graduated” from camp have been coming back as helpers. They help the younger group and provide excellent role models as respectful, caring and outdoors-loving preteens.

As a college educator, I also recognize the importance of hands-on experiential education for students. Thus, I opened this camp to Prescott College students who want to participate in any way: as an independent study, for a senior projects, for a course assignments, or just for gaining experience. Many classes have done field trips with their students to visit Nature Camp. All my instructors are or were college students who became interested in working at my camp after being introduced to it in one way or another. Some of them are now elementary or college teachers, bringing to their jobs the conviction of the importance of nature-based environmental education.

To learn more about Nature Camp: All Children in the Woods or to reach Dr. Altrichter, check out Educational Expeditions’ Facebook page — Observation, internship, and volunteer opportunities are always available!