A walk in the park
Junior Naturalist Program launched
On a Saturday morning in early December, a small group of newly inducted Junior Naturalists whacked through a thick patch of willow that lined the edge of a large pond at Teglia’s Paradise Park in Sparks. Armed with binoculars and nature notebooks, they were looking for, well, everything.
Junior Naturalists, a new program developed by the Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation, is a monthly event aimed at introducing kids of the Reno-Sparks area to the plants and wildlife that reside in local parks. Each month, the Junior Naturalists will visit a different park in the region to explore, learn and have fun in the outdoors.
“I’m hoping that the students will gain an appreciation for their natural environment, and sort of find their place within their city and understand how they fit in to the larger natural world,” said Kelsey Mazur, program coordinator for the Junior Naturalists program.
Central to Mazur’s plan is the idea of student-initiated exploration. In Paradise Park, she led the group through a series of activities, frequently checking in with the Junior Naturalists to see what sorts of things they noticed as they walked the park and what they were interested in doing next. They started with a nature walk around the ponds, looked at birds through binoculars and took notes in nature notebooks. They stopped to play a food-web game, then continued on to another pond where they counted ducks.
“If you’re up there lecturing them and teaching them out of a book, they’re not going to care,” Mazur said. “If you’re letting the kids look at what they want to look at and play the games they want to play, and pick up the rocks they want to pick up, then you’re really encouraging them to ask the questions and be really engaged in their learning.”
In future programs, Mazur looks forward to trying new activities such as a BioBlitz, an event where the students will go out into a park and try to identify and document as many living things as they can. Another activity she is excited to try is nature poetry. The next Junior Naturalists program will take place on Jan. 9 at Huffaker Park in south Reno.
The program is free and open to all students, although the activities are aimed primarily at elementary and middle-school aged children. “Whoever wants to come be a naturalist is more than welcome. The more the merrier. I just want to make nature and the environment something accessible and something fun,” Mazur said.
Mazur, who is in Reno for the year working as an Americorps VISTA volunteer, said part of the inspiration for her work in this program came from time spent working with inner-city kids at a nature preserve in Ohio.
“It was such a great opportunity to see what the natural world can do for students,” said Mazur. “There were students who had never been out of their city before. At the beginning of the week, they were so scared to sit down on a log or get dirty. By the end of the week, their hands were a mess and they were running around and playing in mud, and were so much more comfortable. I’m hoping I can bring some of that to the students here—an opportunity to really connect.”