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Connect young learners to nature

Words and nature combine to create inspiration.
Words and nature combine to create inspiration.
F&J McGinn Photography

Children need nature, and the natural world benefits from the active engagement and commitment of families. At a time when the nation seeks to fight childhood obesity, to build children’s innovation and creativity, and to target education’s real world applications of knowledge, active connections to nature become integral stepping stones to national and family goals. Outdoor explorations and the benefits of children’s active engagements with nature are critical tools for learning, health, and successful living.

Wondrous, nature-linked explorations experienced with your curious learner opens up a lifetime of beneficial connections with nature.
Wondrous, nature-linked explorations experienced with your curious learner opens up a lifetime of beneficial connections with nature.
Florence McGinn and Dr. Joseph T. McGinn

National Park Service’s WEBRANGERS

Resources abound for building an active, informed engagement with nature for children and their families. Check out the National Park Service’s web site, WEBRANGERS, where you can customize a ranger station to fit personal interests. At WEBRANGERS, kids learn about nature through puzzles, games, stories, and diverse activities that cover a multitude of nature-related concepts including natural history, habitat, wildlife, and parks. Users can hike virtual trails, share stories and pictures, earn rewards, track progress, and even share their ranger station.

Resources from individual parks

If you’ve already taken your children to a national park or have a national park trip on the horizon, be sure to check out the web site of your target park. While planning or remembering hikes, explorations, wildlife, and interest-based activities in your target park, kids can gain knowledge about park sites, park geology and biology as well as regional ecology.

For example, if your target park is Yellowstone National Park, free, online learning activities for kids of all ages are available and include an Antler/Horn Match game, a Geyser Match game, a Yellowstone Animal Alphabet Book, both with and without sound, and even Wolf Quest, a 3D video game available for free download and designed to engage learners in discovering wolf ecology.

PBS resources

PBS acknowledges the pivotal value of “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” with fun-filled, informative, and inspiring resources. PBS provides web-based resources that allow kids to create personalized postcards from images of national parks across the nation, including Katmai, Olympic, Denali, Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Mount Rainer, Yellowstone, and Yosemite, and send them to friends and family. Wallpapers of national park images can be downloaded from PBS, and the beautiful images of parks and nature include a rainbow from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, an historical image of naturalist John Muir in Yosemite National Park, and a grizzly bear in Katmai National Park.

PBS resources related to nature learning build deep learning. Interactives and games create connections to nature for kids of all ages. For example, Raptor Force: Raptor Vision Game allows the user to see the world through the eyes of a raptor. Activity worksheets are available and include multidisciplinary resources such as Dee’s Nature Poetry, Sid the Science Kid’s Weather Chart, Curious George’s Pinwheel, and the Cat in the Hat’s Leaf and Bark Rubbings.

Junior Rangers

A broad-based engagement for children, who love learning about nature, is the Junior Rangers program sponsored by the National Park Foundation. The Junior Ranger program is designed to provide National Park Service exploration opportunities for kids and their families. There are over 200 National Park Service Junior Ranger Programs, and they offer the opportunity for youngsters, especially those 5 to 12 years old, to earn official Junior Ranger status. Some parks offer specialty Junior Ranger programs such as Junior War Historian or Junior Paleontologist. The free, 22 page Junior Paleontologist Activity Book can be downloaded online. To earn badges, integrated physically active and educationally informative activities are required.

Individual parks design Junior Ranger programs customized to their local resources. For example to earn a Yosemite Junior Ranger patch, a youngster completes the Yosemite National Park Junior Ranger booklet, collects a bag of trash, and attends a guided program at Yosemite National Park.

The Yellowstone Junior Ranger program awards a stylized bear track badge for 8 -12 year olds, a wolf track badge for 5 to 7 year olds, and a snowflake badge for all Winter Junior Rangers. Activities require visiting the park and are designed to introducing children to the park’s natural wonders and their roles in preservation. Junior Ranger activities include attending a Ranger-led program and hiking a Yellowstone National Park trail.

Slideshow

Nature is integral to the human spirit. Use the nature-themed quotations from the slideshow accompanying this article to create inspiration for yourself and your young learners. Facilitate their personal expressions of wonder and encourage their curiosity. And, consider creating a lasting artifact of that wonder by working together on an original slideshow. Use your young learner’s own images of natural sights and places or family travel pictures combined with personal thoughts, lines from books, songs, or poems, or words from talks or interviews with family and friends.

Connect with deep learning

The key to connecting young learners to nature is nurturing active, meaningful engagements. Children have a natural affinity for exploration. Wondrous, nature-linked explorations experienced with your curious learner opens up a lifetime of beneficial connections with nature.

Find the take in this article to be helpful? National and Local Education as well as National and International Travel materials come from a husband and wife creative team, who travel extensively as photonaturalists and writers. One is an experienced scientist with a doctorate in Material Sciences and background in pharmaceutical and optics research. The other is former Vice President of GKE (Global Knowledge Exchange), who served as a US Web-based Education Commissioner during the Clinton administration, and was a former US National Technology & Learning Teacher of the Year.

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