Teach Our Children Well

Help wanted: Must love kids, nature and the outdoors. Experience not required. Patience a plus. 

Do you have what it takes to tackle the job? If so, Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary wants your help.

This spring, an estimated 1500 students will descend on this county-owned nature preserve in Southern Anne Arundel, and another 800 in the fall. From March to June it becomes an outdoor classroom, teaching the lessons of wetlands, ecology, wildlife and environmental stewardship.

But those lesson plans need help in the form of volunteer teachers to keep reaching these kids—and future generations of scientists, engineers, educators, artists, authors and leaders.

Sarah Kempfer, naturalist and education coordinator at the park, says that it’s important to get children outside and interested in nature.

“Our main effort, especially with the younger children, is to just give them a chance to be outside and really immerse themselves in nature.”

Kempfer is sounding the call for more volunteer naturalists to help her in this task, teaching children from preschool all the way through high school about our natural environment.

“Our hope, through these field trips, is that kids develop an understanding and an appreciation for nature. That they can translate that into becoming adults who can make decisions for the benefit of the natural environment,” she says.

Through these field trips, called Classrooms in the Field, kids are allowed—encouraged, really—to get dirty, get wet and get up close to nature and wildlife. “It’s surprising how many of these children don’t have a lot of experience being outside,” says Kempfer. The field trip experience can lead our next generation to be more inclined to protect and value the natural world, adds Kempfer.

While finding a dedicated volunteer corps isn’t a problem Jug Bay typically has—there are around 120 active volunteers currently—it’s important to the park to get fresh, new teachers in on the action.

“We are constantly being asked to offer more programs so we’d like to be able to fulfill those requests,’ says Kempfer. “But we need more volunteers in order to do that.”

Being a nature know-it-all isn’t necessary either. All the training is provided and Jug Bay offers up all the ‘nature knowledge’ required. “It’s not as hard as it seems,” says Kempfer. “Sometimes people think they have to know everything about the environment – and they really don’t, no one knows everything. We encourage the children to be curious and ask questions, but we don’t have to have all the answers. It’s good for kids to know that adults don’t know everything.”

Volunteers work in small groups of about 12 to 15 kids a day and guide them on a walk through the sanctuary. They often begin by walking along the boardwalk, looking for signs of animal activity or hunting for tree frogs. Perhaps they stop to look for the osprey nesting along the Patuxent River or discuss the rice paddies or point out the old railroad line that carried Bay-bound visitors from Washington, D.C. to Chesapeake Beach.

    An exploration of the forest may include rolling over logs to see what insects are doing. “Some of the kids are squeamish about bugs, worms or frogs, so part of the volunteer’s job is to help them have fun and get comfortable with these things. We want them to turn those ‘oh, yuck’ moments into ‘oh, that’s interesting’ ones,” says Kempfer.

A visit to the vernal pools brings a chance to look for frogs, tadpoles and other amphibians. “We also like to get in the water with a net and catch little fish and crawdads,” says Kempfer. “And then we also talk about macroinvertebrates – the tiny insect larvae that can tell us so much about water quality. We usually find some cool stuff.”

These outdoor adventures offer more than just a day out of the school building—they can offer older students a window into potential careers. Kempfer says she can see how a field trip may inspire jobs in law, science, education, engineering, water quality and more. “We believe in offering quality field trip programs at Jug Bay,” she says. “So the older kids get to do more hard science with experiments and water quality testing.”

By the end of the day, the lesson Jug Bay hopes to pass along is that everything is connected to nature. “It’s all one big web,” says Kempfer, “and we are a part of it. The things we do matter. We want children to know they can make a difference in the world, too.”

Learn more about becoming a volunteer naturalist at Jug Bay’s Open House, Feb. 27 10am-noon, McCann Wetlands Center, 1361 Wrighton Rd., Lothian, rsvp: [email protected]