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David Gallant behind the display table at the MVFN annual meeting and supper. Photo: Lucy Martin
David Gallant behind the display table at the MVFN annual meeting and supper. Photo: Lucy Martin

Retired naturalists pass on knowledge to kids

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In Almonte, Ontario, a local organization called Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists offers a robust array of environmental activities with year-round programming. Offerings range from nature walks and bird-watching, to canoe trips and public lectures - as well as efforts to record, research and protect flora and fauna in the area.

The majority of members are retirees. But they're making an effort to encourage a love of nature in future generations. Their "Young Naturalists" program holds monthly sessions for children aged 6-11.

The main group held its annual general meeting and supper in mid-May, which included a display table, showing what the school-age set does and why they love it. Lucy Martin spoke with the youth group's leader and four young naturalists.

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David and James Gallant, Cam (seated) and Noah Charles and group leader Patty Summers. Photo: Lucy Martin
David and James Gallant, Cam (seated) and Noah Charles and group leader Patty Summers. Photo: Lucy Martin
Patty Summers: My name is Patty Summers and I live in Ottawa. I'm the coordinator of the Mississippi Valley Young Naturalists Program, which started three years ago, now. The Almonte community here – just outside of Ottawa – has a pretty strong naturalists group. So we recruited from there and it's grown. So our maximum size right now per session – we run two back-to-back sessions – we have 15 kids in each session. Full enrollment for the last two years. And they keep returning, which is an accomplishment to the work and how much they enjoy it.

So, each month we'll go outside for a little bit, the kids are given some handouts to add to their own, very own, nature journal, which they are free to decorate and add to, as much as they want. And then we head outside and explore – whatever topic it is. And we always do some type of an activity, or craft.

So it's very hands-on, it's very fun. It's very simple. But that's all it needs to be, to get their interest in things. It can be as simple as a worm. But the fascination with these kids is amazing to see.

Lucy Martin: You're on the young side – if you don't mind my saying so – and one of the things people keep saying is that young people are all attached to their screens, and their social media, and they don't get outside. What's your experience with connecting kids to nature?

Appreciating nature can be as simple as admiring a bird nest. Photo: Lucy Martin
Appreciating nature can be as simple as admiring a bird nest. Photo: Lucy Martin
PS: You know, if you show 'em what's out there, to see it, they are equally as fascinated. We still use our technology to help us. We come up with a question – which happens all the time – we'll stop and we'll Google it. We always have our smartphones and things, just to answer questions, because it's easier than going to the library and stuff like that. But outside, nobody asks to go and play with any video game, when we're outside!

LM: Can any community do this?

PS: Absolutely. The budget that we run on is very simple. It's a couple of dollars per kid that it costs to, you know, have these journals, do a take-home activity and, you know what? Nature is mostly free. You don't need a big area to do it. We're lucky here, we have forest and a stream, which gives us so much flexibility. But most of the time we're covering a small field. Sometimes we only look under one log. It's simple. You can do it. Anywhere.

James Gallant: I'm James Gallant and I'm 11 years old and I live in Lanark Highlands…in the middle of a swamp. We get to see tadpoles and stuff.

LM: What do you like about this group?

JG: I like that we get to go on nature walks. I like to walk. I like nature. So the combination is perfect for me. I just think it's really fun.

David Gallant: I'm David Gallant. I'm nine years old. I like just being able to go out and explore and stuff. Find fossils, just where insects ate wood and stuff. It's really fun!

Noah Charles: I'm Noah Charles and I am 12 years old. I like a lot of the information they give you and how much you can learn from it. It's a great experience.

Lucy Martin: Were you a hiker or a nature guy before all this?

Noah Charles: I liked nature before. I didn't pay that much attention to it. After I joined Field Naturalists there was a big difference on how much I was interested.

LM: Do you think this is something you will want to study in school, or do as a career? Or is it just a nice, extra interest?

Noah Charles: I think it's extra. I like to design games and electronics.

LM: Really? OK, so that's really good because everyone says 'Oh, the young people, they only play with the games and the electronics and they are not connecting with nature.' Do you feel that it's possible to do both?

Noah Charles: I think it is very possible to do both.

LM: Do you feel rare? When you're around your gamer friends, do they like to go out and hike and think about nature too?

Noah Charles: Well, it depends, because some of them are more interested in games and doing things inside. But others do pay a lot of attention to nature.

LM: So, it just varies like anyone else.

Noah Charles: It is good to connect with nature but I think it is also very important to connect with what you want to do as you get older.

LM: So, this group has an age range and you're almost a little (Noah Charles: Yes.) too old for it. What will you do after that?

Noah Charles: I think I will look to see what the age is for actually being a counselor at this, because I think it is very interesting.

LM: So you might come back and help?

Noah Charles: Yes.

Cam Charles: My name's Cameron Charles. I'm eight years old. I came because I always like going outside, and hula-hooping and watering the plants at my house. I love nature so much, so I decided to come here. And I also did a speech about outdoor play, after I did Field Naturalists. And Field Naturalists gave me the idea of the outdoor play, so that's why I did it.

LM: What were some of your favorite activities that you did so far?

Cam Charles: Probably when we went through owl poop, and we found bones and stuff! That was really cool. There was like mice and a whole bunch of different small animals.

LM: Did you tell your friends you guys looked at owl poo? What did they say?

Cam Charles: They liked it a lot, then they wanted to join. Whenever I get bored, I like to go outside.

LM: Is there something else you wish other kids knew about groups like this?

Cam Charles: I wish almost everybody knew about it because it's really, really fun. And there's lots of fun activities to do each time. Like we learn about butterflies, and worms and where you can find them. And there's also sheets about activities that you can do at home. And we do some of those activities at the place too.

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