The bitter cold of Milwaukee winters makes it difficult for many to stay active and have any interest in leaving the house to enjoy the outdoors.
Since I joined the Outdoor Leader program at the Urban Ecology Center this summer, I've come to understand that this place can make it possible to have fun outdoors in any weather. I have never considered myself to be a 'winter person,' often opting to stay cuddled up in a blanket on the couch once the temperature drops below 20 degrees.
I am a relatively new Community Programs Educator at Washington Park. We do much more than I ever expected!
What do I do? Here are some examples.
Roughly a month ago we taught the principle of cause and effect to a group of five year olds from Fernwood Montessori School in Bay View. As they came into the building for their second visit three weeks later, many of them kept saying, “I remember you! We played tug of war and you lost!”
I have said many times before that the Outdoor Leader Program is by far the best first job I could have gotten. Unlike many other jobs, I was not given one-day training and thrown into my work; I was given several weeks to learn. All of the staff that volunteered to train, teach, and work with us were patient and did the best that they could to take care of us and our needs. In the weeks that I was given I created unbreakable bonds and friendships with my coworkers as well as experiences that I never would have gotten anywhere else.
Last summer the Urban Ecology Center held its first Engineering for Kids Summer Camp for third and fourth graders. The entire experience at this camp completely exceeded my expectations. The campers built a raft with their own hands out of recycled wood, inner tubes, ropes and milk jugs and on their last day of camp they embarked on a big adventure - gliding their raft down the Menomonee River.
I felt intimately connected to this project as it reminded me of my childhood. My friends and I used to build rafts with driftwood in the Alagón River Reservoir, Spain. It was a passion I could share with my campers.
Students can be scientists? It's true! In another story of "impossibles made possible" by your support of the Urban Ecology Center, we're taking at look at our Young Scientists Club and their participation in the University of Minnesota's Driven to Discover program!
Spending time outdoors, actively engaging with nature is what our Summer Camps are all about!
Our campers explore the secrets of nature by looking under logs, hiking in the woods, climbing trees, building forts, creating art projects, taking pictures and more with kids from all over the city. They’re building science and engineering skills to be better prepared for school year.
One of my favorite places to take school groups is Lake Michigan. It is such a valuable resource right in the backyard of our city. We use it in many ways to teach lessons to students. One lesson is that our drinking water comes from Lake Michigan. Another is the rock cycle, during which we collect different rocks at the “skipping stone beach.” Recently, my co-teacher Tory and I used the beach to teach 4th graders about glaciers and glacial landforms.
I was asked recently, “What is your philosophy of education?” This is a question I’ve explored many times throughout my years as an educator. Depending on the crowd, my answer brought warm smiles or a furrowed brow as some consider my philosophy a bit “dreamy” in this data-driven, standards-based era of education.
To me, a meaningful education is a journey of discovery, exploring the mystery and the magic of the world around us and within us. I had the joy of witnessing this outward and inward journey recently while observing two of our talented environmental educators in action.
Our 2014-2016 class of High School Outdoor Leaders have returned from an adventure in the Northwoods, finished their summer training, and are gearing up to start working with the Center as part of their paid two-year internship. Please join us in welcoming these 18 wonderful high school students that will become integral parts of the Urban Ecology Center community over the next two years.
With the addition of 25 acres of land along the Milwaukee River and Oak Leaf Trail to the existing 15 acres of restored natural lands of Riverside Park, we are gearing up for adventures and exploration of our new 40-acre Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum. You are invited to join in the fun through our new volunteer docent program. This training will prepare you to lead other nature and outdoor enthusiasts in learning about the Arboretum.