I am asking 15 elementary students to sit still for ten minutes. After school. Outside on a beautiful spring day. This is about the limit for our 2nd – 4th grade Outdoor Explorers. During those ten (seemingly unending) minutes, I went over some basics about our quarry for the day, the Red-Backed Salamander (Plethodon cinereus). I explained how a salamander is NOT a lizard (which is a reptile), but instead it is an amphibian (like frogs and toads). I explained how we would act if we were able to find this delicate creature. We would be quiet and gentle and brief and we would make sure to keep our hands wet (salamanders and other amphibians exchange air through their skin, and the oils and dirt from our hand can hamper their “breathing”.)
And then we were off and on the hunt. Our Outdoor Explorer after school clubs take place at urban schools. You might think to see a salamander or a deer or a box turtle, we have to get on a bus and travel to a nature preserve far from the city – but no, the beauty of our Outdoor Explorer program (and all of our programs) is that they focus on nature right outside the door.
For what good is it to fall in love with nature, if you can only visit it every once in a while, and how can we ask a young urbanite to appreciate something that they only get to see every once in a while. That’s why our Outdoor Explorers look for natural treasures hidden just outside the school, in the park just down the street, or even tucked amongst the rocks, bushes and grassy areas in the schoolyard. We know that when nature is close by, our students are much more likely to interact with it regularly, and benefit from all of the wonderful gifts that time in nature can provide.
For what good is it to fall in love with nature, if you can only visit it every once in a while
That day we found several Red Backed Salamanders, but also a group of deer on the run, centipedes, snails, raccoon scat (lots of “ewwwwssss”), and we even spent a little bit of time building a fort. But the star of the day was the little salamander. Our Outdoor Explorers did a great job being gentle, keeping their hands wet, building a perfect habitat in a terrarium, and they even proudly showed the salamanders off to younger students that were at the school in a different afterschool group. It was our students turn as teachers and leaders, explaining to antsy younger students how to handle the salamanders. At the end of our time for the day, we bid our salamanders well and released them back to their homes under logs and rocks.
During this spring season of Outdoor Explorers we spent two hours every week over the course of ten weeks with our young explorers at urban schools. We played a ton of games (they NEED to move their bodies after a long day of school), built forts, searched for fossils, met a turkey vulture (up close), and so much more. These experiences are the foundation for a lifelong love and appreciation of nature. We are incredibly grateful to the group of donors and volunteers that help make these opportunities possible.
Contact us if you are interested in making a donation to support an Outdoor Explorer afterschool group (or a different education program), or if you have a group that would like to have an Outdoor Explorers program, or if you’d like to volunteer to help with our education programs. We look forward to hearing from you.