Connecting with nature has the power to transform a child’s life. Our kids have been cooped during the pandemic. Our online (but still hands-on) outdoor education last winter helped to fill some of the gaps last winter. But this year, we’re getting kids outside, having experiences that can ignite curiosity and a love for the woods.
We have been providing free winter outdoor education programs to local schools for the past five years. It’s called Winter Tracks. Students get to touch wolf pelts and beaver skulls, learn to identify trees and animal tracks, and navigate through the woods with just a map and compass. They get face-to-face time with our education volunteers who are experts in forestry, wildlife biology, and ecology. But most importantly, they get to experience the joy of being in our wild backyard in the wintertime – something many of our kids lack access to these days.
When covid hit, we developed a remote but still hands-on version of Winter Tracks. We put together G.O.A.T. boxes (Great Outdoors Accessibility and Teaching boxes) full of compasses, animal tracking kits, and fake scat, and delivered them to classrooms. Our volunteers taught over Zoom, as the students used our GOAT boxes to learn hands-on about the wild.
This winter we plan to return kids to the wild outdoors. Day-long field trips to local winter wonderlands like Round Lake State Park will inspire our youth with a passion for the natural world. Finding their way through a cedar grove or discovering critters tracks in the mud and snow ignites imagination. These activities will help children develop a sense of place. By helping connect children with nature, we are nurturing the next generations of public lands stewards.
We know teachers believe in the power of this program. Here are some of the previous responses from teachers:
“We have participated in the Winter Tracks program for a few years, and the day flows beautifully with a variety of stations each being taught by knowledgeable volunteers. I have enjoyed the program so much that when I retire, I hope to be able to participate in the program as a volunteer! I have also brought students up Scotchman’s Peak each year for trail maintenance and as Goat Ambassadors, and it has become a cherished tradition for our school. We are so lucky to allow our students such rigorous hands-on learning in the field with such a well-assembled team of experts to share their knowledge and experience.” –Becky Haag, Clark Fork High School