The world of education, and especially outdoor field trips, has obviously changed quite a bit over the last 6 months. Schools are starting the year in full distance-learning mode, and in-person groups have to stay small (when they’re possible at all). However, getting students outdoors and interacting with nature seems like it’s more important than ever, and the EV is developing fun and creative ways to do so. One of our first realizations was that we are extremely blessed in the Bay Area to be surrounded with beautiful parks and open space areas. Every city has at least one green space that kids can enjoy and explore, and with the help of our incredible volunteers, the EV has developed three new programs to take advantage of this amazing resource.
Our first new program – the Independent Learning Program – is modeled after our regular “Homeschool Fridays” program, which has traditionally been open to all homeschool students in the area. This program takes place during the traditional school day, and offers homeschool students a chance to come together to experience hands-on science activities with trained educators. We’ve modified this program for 2020/2021 to make it more accessible for more students with more dates each month, and to practice covid-safe measures by moving all of the activities outside. Each session, a single EV educator will meet with a small family/household group and take them on a 2-hour nature hike through one of our local open space areas. These nature hikes ares modeled after our standard field trips that we offer for schools, with a focus on the ecology and natural history of the area we’re hiking through.
Our second new program – the After-School Nature Walk Program – is a brand-new program focused on visiting a local city park, and exploring the animals and plants through fun games and activities. These programs take place after the traditional school day, and help small family groups get to know the nature all around them. Distance is shorter, and families might just be surprised how many wonderful places there are to explore in their own neighborhood!
Our third new program – the Walkable Field Trip Program – is designed to launch as soon as students begin to return to school in-person. We know that field trips are so important for well being and engagement, but we also know that traditional field trips – loading 30-60 students onto a bus – are likely going to be difficult to schedule in a covid-impacted world. Instead, our Walkable Field Trips will take students in small groups (their bubble cohorts) to local parks and open space areas that they can walk to from their school.
In order to prepare for both of these new programs, we asked our EV docents to do “Park Surveys” in one of the local parks and green spaces near them. Each pair of EV docents went out to one of these local parks and recorded all the nature they could see, focusing through the lens of how to explore these spaces with groups of children of many different ages, and how to share their love of nature with families from all different backgrounds. We were specifically focusing on parks and green spaces near the schools we regularly work with, which added up to 70 different location. At 2-3 hours and 2 EV docents per survey for each location, that’s over 200 hours of volunteering hours just since June – and many more are still to come as we expand our location surveys. Whew – that’s a lot of effort from our amazing volunteers! But we think they had a lot of fun doing it, too.