By Mary Hursh
Swedish author Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson in her book “Buzz, Sting, Bite,” is often asked why we need mosquitoes, wasps and deer flies. And the answer is that insects underpin the world as we know it and that they play a vital role with other animals and plants. Her book is a close-up look at our natural world and all the wonderful creatures that inhabit it.
Children and young adults in the Syracuse, North Webster and Milford area have the opportunity to see parts of our natural world up close on the many field trips to the Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation led by parents and teachers. “These field trips fit into the mission of the WACF by teaching our youth how to preserve nature and our natural resources for future generations,” said Pam Schumm, education director at the conservancy. The activities are also in line with grade state standards.
Over 30 volunteers assist Schumm in providing fun and interesting activities to help children learn about the natural world. “Many of our first volunteers were retired teachers, but over the years, others interested in youth have joined us as volunteers. We make it super easy to jump in and teach a specific concept.”
The sessions each start with an opening large group activity about some water quality aspect and then we break students into five or six small groups. Each group rotates through five or six fun, interactive activities staffed by a volunteer or two.”
So far, children in grades four, three and one have hopped on school buses for the short trip to the conservancy where they have come face to face with insects, plant life and birds.
The fourth-graders enjoyed looking at macroinvertebrates (organisms without backbones that are visible to the eye without a microscope) on their Sept. 10 and 12 trips. Part of the fun was finding them in buckets and then putting them in a macroviewer for a close look. The third graders made a humidity gauge and actually hugged a tree to understand, blindfolded, that not all trees smell the same and not all trees have the same bark texture or the same circumference. Their field trips were Sept. 24,26.
Birds will be the focus for the second-graders on their Oct. 8 and 10 field trips. Their session is called “It’s for the Birds.” “One of their favorite activities is migration because they can act like geese and learn why they migrate. They also love to paint bird feet,” said Schumm.
First-graders at Milford learned about adaptations and how those adaptations help living things survive during their visit on Oct. 1. The Oct. 14, 16 and 17 field trips for kindergartners will feature the idea that fall has a lot of variety. The children will learn about how different plants disperse their seeds and how different plants have different shaped leaves. For special fun, the children will go on a scavenger hunt for leaves and seeds.
Schumm, a former biology, genetics, and forensics teacher at Wawasee High School for 41 years, started these activities at WACF in 2015 with the help of many elementary school teachers. “My grandmother taught me about clams. That was the beginning of my love for biology. I also had a professor at Hope College who encouraged me to pursue that course of study.”