Four dedicated naturalists at the Audubon Community Nature Center have made it their mission to spark curiosity of the natural world in the lives of local school age children.
This year, Jeff Tome, Sarah Hatfield, Katie Finch, Margaret Foley and a long list of volunteers will deliver more than 200 outdoor programs to nearly 2,200 area students.
Audubon’s educational programming for grades K-6, can be found in schools across the Chautauqua region. From October to April classroom programs deliver hands-on learning experiences. The spring months open up opportunities for outdoor programming including walking trips, for select grade levels, at the Audubon for guided nature walks.
“School programming aims to inspire learning experiences for students that go beyond reading a text book or just taking a scheduled field trip,” explained Sarah Hatfield. “Our goal is for students to develop an understanding that nature is part of their everyday life.”
Making those connections for students is at the heart of the Audubon’s mission and drives their student centered approach, with classroom lessons and outdoor excursions led by students’ questions and interests.
“Our staff and volunteers are here to create the space and opportunities for students to take ownership of their experiences,” stated Katie Finch.
This year’s field trip season kicked off on a warm, sunny May morning with an inquisitive class of 2nd graders from Clymer Central School District. The students directed each of their group’s guided walking tours with questions and investigations on the grounds of Audubon.
One group’s direction went from a discussion on Liberty the bald eagle’s wing span, taking measurements on the circumference of chipmunk holes, to observations of carnivorous dragonfly larva from a pond sample to how to keep goose poop off the walking path.
While students are encouraged to take an active role and lead their own learning experience, it should also be mentioned Audubon works hard to ensure all educational programming continues to fit school curriculum. That includes staying current on changing educational standards and soliciting teacher feedback.
Naturalists have been working with area schools and teachers for decades, getting to know thousands of students across the region every year.
“What we look forward to most is developing long-term relationships with these students and teachers,” explained Finch. “Building on those connections it is our hope to spark their curiosity and inspire learning opportunities.”
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