“Renewed” and “reimagined” describe environmental education at Audubon Canyon Ranch today. While facing the challenges of connecting children to nature during the pandemic, we explored new ways of interacting with classes by developing virtual visits to both Bouverie and Martin Griffin Preserves. We created standards-aligned lessons for teachers that focus on developing the skills to do science, not just learn content. We have reemerged with a cohesive program that connects the classroom to the trails of the preserves.
This fall, teachers planning to bring students to the preserve will teach observation skills to their students before their field trip. Many of the students will also have a virtual visit to Bouverie Preserve that will give them the opportunity to use their observation skills to answer the question, “What living things rely on oak trees?” Children discover they are scientists every time they ask a question about nature and use their own observations to uncover the answer.
When the children arrive at the preserve, they are ready to explore nature firsthand with the guidance and support of education docents. The docents are able to further the nature exploration with the children while walking the preserve allowing the children to use not just their eyes and ears, but their hands and noses to take in the wonders of the land. The hike with a volunteer is the heart and sole of the program.
The experience does not end when students return to the classroom. After the field trip, students can reflect by creating a drawing that recounts their time on the preserve. A week later, the docents follow up with a virtual classroom visit so students can share their drawings and ask follow-up questions.
The follow-up visit also allows us the opportunity to survey the children about their experiences. Last spring, we piloted the follow-up virtual classroom visit and the student survey. From the survey, we learned that for 30% of the children the field trip to the preserve was their first time in nature. Most of the children reported being happy and excited, as well as practicing their observation skills and learning about nature.
Our expanded experience supports students as they develop skills to observe and query what they see on their walk, then connect more deeply to what they are learning in the classroom and seeing in their own neighborhoods.