Unforgettable lessons in the woods

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I sat in my Jeep thinking about all the administrative tasks I could have been doing at the office instead of waiting to see the yellow school bus full of first graders pull in for a field trip I said I would help with.

But I always have a hard time saying no when I have the opportunity to be outside with kids.

Educational outing

The teacher told me I was the only “educational” part of the outing, the rest was fun… a corn maze, putt-putt golf, and some crazy looking bouncy thing. I was going to take the kids on a walk through the woods, armed only with a backpack full of crayons, white paper and a couple of field guides.

My best joke was showing them how to identify a beech tree by the carvings in it (totally lost on first graders).

Natural competition

How could I compete? You know what, I did compete. Well, not me — I’m not that good — but the woods did.

Those kids were so excited to see what they could find. They discovered holes and imagined what lived there. They did some bark rubbings with multiple colors of crayons.

Two of the groups found frogs, and they all were delighted by the minnows in the clear stream. They saw a squirrel in the distance, and one sharp-eyed kid even found a tiny worm.

A yellow caterpillar prompted me to flip through my “ODNR Moth & Butterfly” field guide, and a little girl found a slug trail on a piece of bark, which she kept.

They found caches of nuts hidden in decaying logs, and one kid was quite sure beavers built the stack of perfected sawed off logs. Pockets were stuffed full of acorns, walnuts, leaves and rocks. A couple guys were cutting firewood and the students could tell me what trees were made into, from houses to furniture to paper.

After our short hike, many of those little kids thanked me for taking them into the woods. Which is way more rewarding than anything I could have done in the office instead.

There was no sitting in a perfectly round circle teaching them a carefully thought out lesson plan, with students quietly raising their hands to answer. It was actually pretty chaotic, but that is OK.

Surprising knowledge

What struck me the most was how much those students knew about trees and their benefits (“They help us breathe,” said one adorable and brilliant girl). I was amazed how much they knew about the wildlife that lives in the woods, and how excited and alive they were in that environment.

Will they remember my little lessons about conservation that I tried to convey above the enthusiasm that only little kids can generate? Probably not. But they already know a lot about the importance of the world around us, we just need to make sure they get outside to experience it and learn even more.

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Michelle Wood is the program administrator for the Holmes Soil and Water Conservation District. She is a graduate of Mount Union College with a degree in communications, and has been involved in natural resources and agriculture throughout her career.

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