Environmental Learning Green News Green Schools & Classrooms Natural Play

Maplewood Nature Center- rooted, reaching, teaching!

Maplewood Nature Center is rooted and reaching into the community

This summer I met Chris Soutter, a naturalist at Maplewood Nature Center.  We were attending a Will Steger Foundation climate change workshop and had sat down at the same picnic table during our lunch break.  As we chatted I realized that she was MY naturalist.  As a kid in district 622- I went to Maplewood Nature Center for field trips and programs and loved it.

In fact I brought my own two children there a few weeks later and was amazed at how Maplewood Nature Center has remained rooted in solid science, programming and experiences for kids while also reaching into the community by showing what homeowners can do to nurture nature in their own yard.  The visitor’s center has solar panels and energy displays and shows how water run-off is cared for in a rain barrel and rain gardens.  The well-established display butterfly gardens were packed with colorful native perennial plants.  Their natural playground space is loaded with sounds, textures, tunnels and climbing spots and trail system includes shady areas and an extra-wide wetland boardwalk.

“You went here as a kid, Mom?” my oldest asked me with a smile on her face then she ran to play with the logs from the state’s largest Pin Oak.  Watching her play next to the gigantic logs from that heritage tree made me think of how nature centers are perceived differently now then when I was a kid.  Two to three times a school year we would go to the Maplewood Nature Center for field trips about animals, seasons, trees, insects and more.  In elementary school I would play outside with friends in the yard, woods, or up the block nearly every day- I guess I don’t see kids doing that as much anymore.

MNC naturalists, Ann and Chris, shared with me how there have been major shifts in how nature centers are being used.  Field trips for preschool groups have increased dramatically while field trips for elementary school groups have nearly dried up!  The emphasis on testing has led to field trips being “standards-based” rather than purely inquiry adventures.  While high bus costs may deter some teachers, Chris also pointed out that grant money available from districts and foundations for field trips has greatly increased.   Furthermore research has documented these changes (C&NN) and working to uncover the connections between childhood health, creativity, resourcefulness, and time spent in nature.

Is the attitude about nature centers being like a zoo…“that’s where nature lives and stays when I visit, but I don’t bring it back to my house”actually spreading?  Or do citizens support and visit nature centers in order to better understand ecology, growing green, and living sustainably?  I know that Maplewood Nature Center is rooted, reaching, and ready to educate ecology, embrace sustainable living, and lead local outdoor adventures.  Bring on the kids of all ages!  Play. Learn. Love.

September 2013