As I blogged yesterday, I started a new volunteer gig as a Nature Escort to take 3rd Graders around the Fullerton Arboretum. Unfortunately, I was not able to get trained on what to do so I felt a little nervous about the job - worse yet, my 'assistant' was a parent who had never done this and was not really willing to help keep the kids in line so it was a creative challenge on how to keep them together, focused on the presentations and engaged in the learning. Only one of the children had ever been to the arboretum and I was under the impression none of them got out much because they were excited by every bird, squirrel, butterfly and other signs of animal life. Fortunately, we were blessed at our second stop by several mallard ducks and a couple of coots who kept doing interesting things so that was really fun for the kids.
Unfortunately, the Nature Guides doing the presentations were more focused on what they had to present than whether the 'audience' [the kids] were getting anything from it. I hate to sound critical but it is a common problem among teachers that they SEEM more interested in the material than the actual learning itself, which is one of the reasons I think many students don't get engaged in school. Of course, there are also plenty of wonderful teachers who come up with creative ways for students to learn and they DO get their students engaged in it - but this was a really tough morning for the kids because there was a TON of information presented to them, including some that was pretty technical [I thought we could have skipped words like 'deciduous' and 'propogate' for instance - the presenters seemed to think the kids not only understood the words but would be able to remember them]. There was still plenty that did interest the kids - one exciting development was finding several bushes with monarch butterfly caterpillars!
And bless their hearts, they did their best to pay attention, even when it was clear they were bored to tears. This presenter told me yesterday my group was the most hyper he's seen in a few years - just my luck that me, as a totally untrained newbie, would get the most rowdy group with the shortest attention span! Fortunately, my son had an extreme case of ADHD, so did my brother, sister and, um, me! So i do have some experience with antsy-pantsy kids, haha! But it was a really LONG morning, stretching across 3-1/2 hours!! - this picture was taken after about 2 hours and you can see that some of the kids are starting to lose interest.
Fortunately, this Nature Guide was willing to let me interject a bit so one thing I 'added' to the lesson was 'jogging in place' as fast as they could for about 30 seconds. I thought maybe if they burned off a little of that excess energy, it would help - and I joined them in the 'jogging in place' activity, which impressed them a lot. After that, our Guide got the idea to do something a little more active, too, so he gave them some broken-off branches and told them to find the tree that matches them, which was a very popular activity - here are some of the kids PROUDLY showing that they found their tree! [and I am very sensitive about posting pictures of other people's kids on the Internet so I blocked out their faces - sorry about that!!]
Next, our Guide let them examine different types of conifers [cones] and the seeds that are inside. He talked about which animals ate which ones and explained that some of the seeds won't sprout unless they've been eaten and pooped out! The kids thought that was very funny, of course.
I tried to get the kids to work off a little energy by 'racing' to landmarks along our path to the next exhibit since it was the longest travel of the morning. I also decided to make a bathroom stop for them to distract them a little bit and break up the super-dense information overload. The next Guide wasn't terribly happy that we were 'late' to that part but I tried to explain to him that they weren't going to listen to anything anyway because they were totally on overload. But he was determined and as you'll see from the next pictures, it was literally impossible to keep the kids listening so I changed my focus into trying to keep them safe and 'unlost' and let him talk to the few who were willing to pay attention. Here he managed to get half the group to look at something.
By the next stop, he lost half of that group's attention.
After that, they were just all over the place doing their own exploration!
We did see some really interesting cacti - I liked this euphorbia, which is really gigantic - you can see the outline of one kid in the lower left-hand corner to get the idea of the relative size. I'm not that good at estimating size but thought it was probably 20-25' taller, maybe more!
Thankfully, it was time to head to lunch after that - we made one super-quick stop at a Children's Discovery display, which was not supposed to be included on the tour but looked pretty interesting to me, then we met the teachers and the rest of the groups. I did talk a little with the teacher about the curriculum development and then talked with the head of education and several Nature Guides. I didn't want to charge in like 'gee, now that I've done this once I am an expert and here's how you should change things' but I did want to ask how the curriculum developed and offer my help on the next revision.
As the result, I'm now invited to become a Nature Guide, which is the group that developed the lessons. As it turns out, there was one 'award-winning teacher' who oversaw the material and apparently there are state guidelines but the bulk of the presentations seemed to be developed by the subject matter experts, none of whom were teachers. So they were glad to have another 'teacher' join in, even though I do not work with children in the classroom. I am not sure how much of a commitment I want to make to that and don't want to get 'over-committed' but I can definitely see the need for a little more interactivity for this age group - parts of the presentations were excellent but the overall total seemed overwhelming to me so I can only imagine how 'maxed' the kids must have felt!
As we went over a small bridge leaving the arboretum to go back to the bus loading area, we were lucky to spot a small turtle sunning itself on a rock - so the day really ended on a high note and I think overall it was really fun for the kids, even though I doubt they will remember much of the 'technical information' from the day.
As for me - I was thoroughly exhausted at the end of this gig, although it was a lot of great exercise for me. I was standing or walking for about 4-1/2 hours; most of the walking was somewhat slow but some was pretty fast and during the second half, I got some 'aerobic exercise' thrown in to help the kids burn energy - and that helped me burn calories because after all, calories = energy, right? And I'm very lucky that I was able to take a nice nap in the afternoon!
Today I feel great and very happy I participated in this wonderful activity - looking forward to seeing if participating in the Nature Guide group will be a good fit for me! Have a fantastic Friday and an absolutely WONDERFUL WEEKEND!!