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Teaching Nature to Kids: Volunteers Wanted

Kids explore Dog Beach in Larchmont
Kids explore Dog Beach in Larchmont

“It’s moving. It’s moving. It’s a leech!” shouted the 4th graders from Chatsworth School.

“Now don’t stick your fingers in there. Just watch it move,” Anthony cautioned.  That would be Anthony Waring, a volunteer environmental educator (VEE) who is teaching a very excited group of kids doing “ponding” at Sheldrake Environmental Center in Larchmont.

“How do you know it’s a leech?” Anthony asks the kids.

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“Cause it’s moving the way you said leeches move,” answers one of the kids.

A volunteer for more than 6 years, Anthony sometimes gets even more enthusiastic than his students. He really is having fun too.

“With the 4th graders on the ponding trip,” Anthony explains, “I often play a matching game beforehand in the classroom. Using large index cards, I put pictures of invertebrates, like a leech, on the cards with the adult form on one card and larval forms on a different card. On the back of each card, I’ll write a series of clues helping to identify the creature. Then I divide the class into two groups—one with the adult cards and the other with the immature larval cards. And the kids try to find their matches, learning from the clues.”

Anthony is one of more than 35 VEE’s who currently guide field trips during the school year. Each volunteer visits the classrooms beforehand to meet the teachers, get to know the students, and prepare everyone for the field trip which takes place often on the next day.

Every VEE is both trained and mentored on an ongoing basis at the Sheldrake Center by program director Mary Davis, who started the program in 2003, and by Jenny Geer, a naturalist who co-teaches the program. They conduct a 12-session training course that covers everything you need to know about the 3 areas where field trips take place: the Larchmont Reservoir and trails around the Goodliffe Pond, the Sheldrake River trail off Rockland Avenue, and Dog Beach located at Manor Park in Larchmont.

“We have been doing “ponding” for years as a school program,” says co-teacher Geer.   “Kids are amazed when they see creatures like dragonfly nymphs, snails, and tadpoles come out of the water, and we love teaching it because there’s always something new and surprising. We also do regular school trips to Dog Beach in Larchmont. Most people know it as a dog-walking site, but few realize that it’s teeming with life, from seaweeds to crabs.”

Graduates of the VEE training program work with elementary school students not only from Larchmont, but from Rye, Mamaroneck, Scarsdale, and New Rochelle schools. Throughout the school year, they take turns visiting the students at the various elementary schools (“pre-trip” sessions), and leading field trips.

According to director Mary Davis, one of the greatest benefits of the program, besides being trained to lead field trips, is “sharpening your own awareness of local habitats including your own backyard.” In addition, Davis notes that many volunteers feel they are able to give back to the community in a meaningful way and at the same time make some amazing discoveries with the kids.

Registration for VEE classes is now open. Classes are held indoors and on location starting October 16. Those who are interested in the course can contact Mary Davis directly at mdavis@sheldrakecenter.org for more information and to learn how to apply for the program. Or you can visitwww.sheldrakecenter.org or call (914)834-1443 for more information.


Joyce Newman
Joyce Newmanhttps://joycehnewman.wordpress.com/
Joyce H. Newman is an Emmy Award-winning environmental journalist, educator, and gardener. She holds a Certificate in Horticulture from The New York Botanical Garden, and is a tour guide there.
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