Learning with the senses... I really feel this is the best method of understanding a new concept. I know sometimes it's not wise, sometimes not even safe, to employ every sense when presenting ideas and information to others. When it IS safe to do so, well, then you can have some of those moments... a magical moment to maybe last a lifetime.
Green Briar Nature Center in Sandwich is a gem of a place, nestled near a cranberry bog and the Smiling Pool, as Thornton Burgess so beautifully named it, just off of Route 6A in East Sandwich, MA. Years ago I was hired there as a part-time naturalist and I thought that I'd just won the job lottery! Seriously! It's not like you're out there in the woods, at the bog, on the salt marsh, sifting through silt looking for gold. Funny how it shows up though. What the HECK am I talking about? I was working for Green Briar on this perfect weather morning, the second day of autumn, with 10 second graders I'd never met. They'd previously had classroom presentations of their field trip to Scorton Creek, and lucky kiddos... here they were in Nature's classroom. We walked on the dirt road together, toward the marsh and the creek. We talked about plants, got interrupted by a few birds (Well I did. I always do.) we discussed why the salt marsh is such a vital and fragile ecosystem that deserves reverence. For some of these kids, it's their backyard. When you grow up with something so special just there all the time, it's easy to understand why such a place might become taken for granted.
We had a check list of plants and animals and birds and isopods... we were doing well on the list, especially once we got to the creek and the kids could wade in if they wanted and use nets and buckets to get a closer look at whatever they discovered. I'm not used to kids who are dirt shy. When I'm at the Museum of Natural History, KidSummer kids expect and want to trash up their brand new white museum logo T-shirt with mud and sand and dirt. These kiddos were on a field trip from school - way to start the year Forestdale second graders! Some of them were less than enthused about the clay-like sand & mud in the creek bed though. No biggie. I'm not there to make anyone do anything they really don't want to do. The kids that did jump right in, literally, discovered some sea lettuce and some empty clam shells and 1 little green crab. So we got right up close and I held the crab and we talked about how it felt when the crab walked over our hands... could he bite us, yes, but his claws were tiny.
Mostly - we all agreed, it tickled as he crept across the palms of our hands. Then, a bit of magic happened, though not everyone noticed. One of the more shy kids, who was not comfortable getting her feet muddy, who didn't want to wade or even step near the creek, who hung back so far until this moment... asked, "Can I hold the crab?"
"OF COURSE!", said I! I was SO delighted and PROUD OF HER! I'd just met this youngster not an hour before, and here she was, growing right in front of me! This photo below is her, bravely & happily holding a young green crab in her hands. Don't miss the fading blue nail polish...
It was a magical nature moment. When the crab was in her hands, man-o-man did she break out into the most beautiful missing a few baby teeth smile! It was wonderful. Then another girl, who had also hung back away from the messy fun we'd been having, stepped up and asked the very same question. I was blown away! This is what the heck I'm talking about. Teaching with the senses. There is NOTHING like it. They could see the landscape, they could hear the breeze and the birds, they could smell the stinky sulfur of the healthy marsh, they could taste the salt from the brackish water on their hands, and they could feel the crab creeping gently across their hands...
All sorts of discovery going on
Pointing out Glasswort "sea pickle"
Courageously holding a skate egg case "mermaid's purse"
This student stepped WAY out of his comfort zone to hold this for my photo.
That's my hand next to his, letting him know that he would be fine.
Oak branches that dip into the water at high tide
Note the salt hay and grasses that dangle from the lower branches
I realize, this particular entry was not about birds, though we did see and hear: American Crow, Herring Gull, Song Sparrow & Belted Kingfisher; I felt like sharing this experience I had with these students. The 90 minutes I spent on the salt marsh with these 7 year olds, who I'll probably never see again (though I sure hope I do!) made my morning. I hope they visit Scorton Creek with their families, while walking the family dog and show them all they learned, in such a short time, in such a special spot, with Cape Cod magic all around them.
Happy Birding, and crabbing!