Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Iowa Junior Naturalist Program
An easy extension of geocaching with kids is the Iowa Junior Naturalist Program. It's a fairly painless, do-it-yourself deal, where kids ages 6 - 18 participate in activities that increase environmental awareness. The program is sponsored by the Iowa Association of Naturalists and the Iowa County Conservation Boards. We spend our time, but not money, to participate.
By attending three public programs and completing two independent activities during a calendar year (older kids need at least one hour of volunteer work for a conservation event, like CITO), participants receive a certificate and a patch. The patch changes every year.
My thoughts on awards are mixed, just like most of the educators whom I know. I will say that seeing the 'award' handed out to older kids is fairly big in the eyes of children ages 1 - 5 years who are unable to participate. Like most people, I feel that the true reward is the time spent learning about nature, and the things, tangible and intangible, that you yourself gain from that time spent. I can truly say that my kids think the awards are very very secondary to the actual activities. The lack of public, print, and group recognition is probably what keeps this statement valid. The program may be more visible if awards are handed out during public events, but keeping things low-key is OK by me. The focus really should not be on awards. For us, the junior naturalist program serves as an external push to get us doing new things, particularly with public programs. The awards do create a nice record to look at, especially when joined with photographs of our outdoor time.
I really like the accountability of the program requirements. Getting the initials of the presenter forces kids to "meet the expert." I don't know if all of my kids would go up to a presenter if they didn't have to get initials. I think this is a very valuable part of the program. Engaging with people is important to me. Sometimes this is not possible, for example, when there are live animals. I just sign the form in this case.
Related to an Iowa junior naturalist's education:
Geocaching. Geocaching.com You gotta get off the trail to appreciate what we have. Geocaching offers relatively safe areas to explore. Earthcaches in particular are great for conservation awareness. There are several websites to help adults incorporate geocaching in the classroom if you do an internet search on 'kids and geocaching.'
Your local County Conservation Board. Websites vary. Our usual is www.conservationboard.org All of Iowa's 99 counties have a conservation board. Most program offerings are free and kid friendly. This is how you can learn about the plants, animals, and natural history of the places you hike. Additionally, the ICN has many offering from the conservation boards. We've attended classes via ICN since 2000 and have seen presenters from Warren, Polk, and Jasper counties.
Prairie Voices, An Iowa Heritage Curriculum. Released by the State way back in 1995, there are three valuable conservationist biographies to read aloud, as well as some schooly activities. I haven't tested the activities with my kiddos, so I can't comment on them. Each conservationist has an exhibit in the State Historical Musuem of Iowa.
The Prairie Learning Center. See its exhibits on wildlife and soil. The quality of their programming has been inconsistent over our nine years with them, but a watchful and resourceful parent can turn it into something valuable. We have attended at least four formal programs there and volunteered to clean seeds.