School group programs thriving

School group programs thriving

As we make the most of winter

The weather outside may be “frightful,” as the Christmas song goes, but Coastal Rivers’ nature education staff are outdoors with students in every sort of weather – comparing habitats, identifying plant and animal species, building trail bridges, bird-watching, learning about winter adaptations, and more! Now that we have two educators, myself and Angela DesVeaux, the education program is serving more students than ever before.

students installing a bog bridge

GSB students install a bog bridge along the trail behind the school.

Low temperatures, slippery trails, or even a cold wind do not get in the way of outdoor education programs. People sometimes say to me, “winter must be your slow time, right?” In reality, this is a very busy time for the education program. Winter is a wonderful time to get kids outdoors learning about winter ecology, and is all the more important since Maine’s short daylight hours mean that kids might not be getting as much outdoor time at home this time of year.

Some of our favorite time-tested winter programs include observing and identifying animal tracks and signs, learning about winter adaptations, and practicing winter survival skills such as orienteering, shelter-building and fire-starting. Of course, when there is snow, we’ll often go sledding or snowshoeing too.

One annual winter activity we do with the kindergarteners from Great Salt Bay School is “Pushing and Pulling,” where students learn all about kindergarten-level physics by using snow-snakes (a Wabanaki game that involves sliding wooden sticks downhill), sledding, and building quinzhees, or Athabaskan-style snow shelters.

Our weekly programs with Lincoln Academy Ed Lab and IDEAL students continue all winter long. One of the groups is currently working on creating interpretive signage that can be used with other education programs, while the other has been studying birds in preparation for a birdhouse building project.

kids painting outdoors

Art class at Nature School in February 2020.

The second half of January will be especially busy at Coastal River’s Salt Bay Farm, as grades K through 3 from South Bristol Elementary School and 6th graders from Nobleboro Central School get to experience “Nature School.” This is a special program where the students come to the Nature Center every day for a week and do a combination of regular school classes and outdoor education programs with Coastal Rivers’ staff. The students take over the Nature Center for the week and it becomes their very own nature-focused schoolhouse with fields, forests and marshes to explore.

Our education programs are offered at no cost to all AOS 93 schools, and are much more than just a “feel-good” experience. We work directly with teachers to develop custom programs that meet their students’ needs while also helping them meet state and federal education standards. The hands-on nature-based experiences we share together enrich the learning process and make the lessons more likely to “stick.”

students journaling on a mossy rock in winter

Journaling during Nature School 2020.

A teacher we work with recently shared this gratifying comment from a parent: “The public school/(Coastal Rivers) model is truly the best science programming I have seen. I am thrilled that my 3rd grader has so much access to a deep and engaging experience.”

So we say… let it snow!