Walking the eco-walk
Chico State anthropology museum puts sustainability lip-service to the test with zero-waste kids’ camp
Adrienne Scott calls the kids’ summer camps at the Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology at Chico State her “brainchild.” As the curator of education for the museum, Scott planted the seed in 2001 for what has grown into a six-week series of all-day camps to keep kids ages 5 to 11 entertained physically and mentally during the hot summer months.
But over the past few years, Scott has become more and more aware of an unsettling juxtaposition being played out in the way hands-on education is taught: Kids were being bombarded with lessons about sustainability, she said, but they were being sent home with paper, plastic and other products each week that didn’t serve much purpose at home.
“It’s time, with all this lip-service to sustainability, to start changing the way we do things,” said the articulate Scott while sitting in the museum’s modest library. “It’s not just about teaching ‘recycle, reuse, reduce’ anymore. How does this ‘reduce’ piece come into our classroom modeling?”
In an attempt to answer that question, Scott and her team—composed of an art-education graduate, a liberal-studies graduate and several anthropology undergrads—came up with the concept for “Wet and Wild EcoExplorers,” a weeklong afternoon camp that focuses on teaching kids about climate change, habitat destruction and the web of life through projects and activities that are hands-on, but do not involve creating a material item that wastes resources and cannot be reused.
“As an educator, I’ve really valued that kids are more process-oriented than product-oriented,” Scott said. “It’s more about the ‘doing’ than the material product that comes from it.”
The Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology is eerily quiet as camp counselors and Scott prep for the upcoming camp season, which will run from June 20 to July 28. Camps are divided into morning and afternoon sessions each week, and session themes range from basic archeology, Greek mythology and outer space, to international cooking and pottery.
For the Wet and Wild EcoExplorers session, Scott and her team researched what other camp organizers and museums have done around the nation to shift curriculum toward less wasteful projects and activities, a trend that is growing among eco-minded educators.
Rami White, a credentialed art-education teacher who is working on a master’s in curriculum and instruction, was a key player in planning curriculum for the camp.
Last semester, White visited Shady Creek Outdoor School in Nevada County, where she noticed many activities were centered on relationships and cooperation, she said. That experience—along with the things she’s learned in her master’s program—showed her the importance of teaching kids how sustainability and community are linked, she said.
“They weren’t really making a lot of stuff [at Shady Creek]; it was more cooperative activities and games, so I got inspired to do something similar,” White said. “We’re getting less and less resources, and future generations are going to have more environmental issues, so cooperation is important.”
White used guidelines from Project WET and Project WILD (environmental curriculum used nationwide that White was introduced to in her master’s program), along with a few books such as Closing the Loop, a state-sanctioned curriculum focused on waste management and resource conservation.
By using ideas from the books and ideas of their own, White, Scott and the rest of the team came up with a series of “fun, crazy and simple” games, Scott said, including Endangered-Species Twister, a modified game of Twister in which kids will be asked to identify and differentiate among fish, amphibians, birds and mammals.
“And then we’ll remind them that they’re mammals,” said Scott, emphasizing that the camp will focus on giving kids an understanding of how they fit into the web of life.
Other activities will introduce kids to the carrying capacity of habitats, said White. In one game called “How many bears can live in this forest?” kids will collect food tokens symbolizing plants, berries, meat and insects during an allotted period of time, and will experience what it is like not to have enough resources to meet each bear’s needs.
The game will conclude with a replenishing of food to represent the changing of seasons, further illustrating the cycle of life, Scott said.
Other games will teach kids about wetland destruction, humans’ ability to restore habitats, droughts, food consumption, consumer choices, recycling and how tough it is to clean up oil spills, she said.
“We want them to know that humans are a strand in the web; we are not the creator of the web,” Scott said. “We want to stress that interconnectedness and share with them the excitement and understanding of deep ecology—to teach them how humans can interact but not interfere with nature.”
Kids will also venture down to Big Chico Creek on campus, where they will learn about insects, plants, birds and other elements that comprise the ecosystem in their back yard, adding a “wet and wild” element to the camp.
Katie Tally, the camp’s coordinator, has been working with the anthropology museum’s summer camps since 2005, when she was a liberal-studies undergrad at Chico State. Tally and her colleagues have developed new curricula every year, but developing activities for the zero-waste camp required extra creativity, she said.
“It was pretty difficult, because a lot of the stuff we do has some sort of project that comes with it,” said Tally, who is now a fifth-grade teacher in Yuba City. She and her colleagues even found ways to incorporate sustainability into other aspects of the camp, including snack time, when Otter Pops (frozen snacks wrapped in plastic) will be replaced with homemade popsicles or other refreshing snacks that aren’t wrapped in paper or plastic, Tally said.
Finding ways to teach kids and gauge what they are learning without worksheets and craft projects has been a reminder to Scott and her team about the value and challenges of bare-bones education—a process that, long ago, was centered around hands-on experiments and face-to-face communication, not technology and modern classroom materials.
“It’s about making better use of our SmartClassroom moments,” said Scott, referring to computers and audiovisual equipment used at the university. She noted that technology has its advantages in education, too. “But not everything has to be whiz-bang.”