Early Childhood in the Outdoors
I found that the more I have worked with youth in my service, the easier it became. The practice helped show me that I just needed some activities and crafts in my back pocket to keep things moving along. Over time I began to let the camps become more student-led. Children have few opportunities to exercise independence, and this partially makes sense because they are young and still learning how to basically be people, but I think it's important to be more of a resource that shares knowledge and guides rather than a traditional lesson provider in environmental education.
I taught a camp of 6-year-olds, and we spent most of it looking for frogs and invertebrates in the pond, or catching insects and snails for examination in the garden. I provided information about how all the organisms rely on each other, but the emphasis was more on having fun and investigation. Positive early childhood experiences in the outdoors are what form future stewards; these students are more likely to remember their emotional connection to the trails we played on than the details on the life cycle of a wood frog (although I hope they remember both). By the end of the camp with the 6-year-olds, students had some of the following quotes:
"If all the moss in the world disappeared tomorrow, I would probably scream and cry for the rest of my life."
"I need at least 20 seconds to rampage in the pond right now" (I allowed it).
(Spoken to a bumblebee:) "THANK YOU BUMBLEBEE! Without you...we would be nothing."
With my background more on the science end of things, I find myself striving for objectivity in conservation science. Working with kids helped me realize, or perhaps just reminded me, that the roots of conservation come from the heart. My own memories of collecting clay in streams and climbing trees are probably what started my own path in the career I'm in now, and facilitating experiences like that in the next generation is really powerful.