In the final MAEE blog post of the year, I wanted to take the chance to show some appreciation for all of the hard work you as environmental educators do. And it IS hard work. Many of our non-EE peers think we just play outside all day, getting dirty, having fun, playing games. And we do – but it’s still work. I’d like to see some of them try it sometime and then say otherwise. There are group dynamics to navigate, science to teach, and encounters with questions you may not know the answers to, not to mention the teachers and parents involved (you know the ones I mean). Not to mention all the administrative and coordinating work behind the scenes. It’s a challenge you’ve all risen to! We as environmental educators not only cultivate a love and aspiration for science, but we fosters a love and appreciation for nature as well. You all are both the facilitators and front seat spectators to all of that.
There is a LOT of competition with nature these days: technology (computers, video games, TV); more buildings, cars and roads; fear of strangers; parental attitude; fear of pests. The list could go on forever. For kids, boundaries are smaller, and the freedom to roam is diminished.
People have always had a fear of the unknown, and throughout history nature has often been included in that. The difference now is that collectively as a society, we know more about what’s out in nature, but when we get down to the individual level the understanding isn’t always there.
During my time as a naturalist and informal educator I observed fear of pests (among other things) first hand. I will never forget the mother who asked me if her children “could catch ticks” from being in the long grass where we were building our fort (having fun!). When I told her it was possible, but not likely as ticks were long past their peak, she wanted immediately take her kids home and away from the fun they were having. I did not mention to her that it was also possible to “catch ticks” in her backyard…
I do not discount the fears and worries of parents – our world is a dangerous place! Or, at least it can be. One of the things I love about being an environmental educator (and I’m sure many of you would agree) is that I get to give youth (and sometimes adults…) the knowledge and tools they need to navigate through a number of those fears and dangers in a way that empowers them instead of doing all the work for them. In my opinion, spending time in nature is a huge part of the way humans learn. It is a way for children to gain confidence, build coordination skills, test the physical capabilities of their own boundaries, and learn what is acceptable socially.
The great thing about being an environmental educator is that I know that many of these youth we teach, even for just the short time we see them, will grow up with a much larger appreciation for more than just trees or birds or insects.
I’ve heard countless stories from other educators about where they got their passion and excitement for nature. I have my own stories. And the youth you teach will remember what they did with you for the rest of their lives. You will become that spark of passion for them. I have no doubt that when they are older if they are ever asked “How did you know you wanted to do ____?” the answer will eventually lead back to the hours they spent with you learning to identify birds and trees and looking for fungus and insects, and the connections they made to their fellow youth, to science, and to nature.
So here’s a bit of encouragement and a great big nod to all the hard work you do for your institution and the role you play in the environmental education sphere here in Minnesota. What you do has value and is appreciated by everyone you encounter, even if they don’t realize it.
So keep up the good work and have a FANTASTIC New Year!