Prairie Ecology Bus visits WorthingtonWORTHINGTON — Seeds are round. Thistles are prickly. And for the 20 students at Worthington Montessori School and their parent chaperones, learning about nature is a lot of fun.
By: Laura Grevas, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Seeds are round. Thistles are prickly. And for the 20 students at Worthington Montessori School and their parent chaperones, learning about nature is a lot of fun.
The group of 3- through 5-year-olds visited the Prairie Wetland Learning Center in Worthington on Wednesday. But they didn’t take a regular school bus. They traveled on the Prairie Ecology Bus with guides from the Lakefield-based Prairie Ecology Bus Center (PEBC).
“We’ll be hiking through the Prairie Wetland site and using all of our senses to explore nature,” explained PEBC Executive Director Chrystal Dunker. Students worked with colors, shapes, textures, smells and sounds of the prairie, an experience teacher Sally Anne Benson said is new to them.
“A lot of them don’t have the opportunity to go out into the country, much less a prairie,” she said, “That’s the most exciting thing for them, just to go out.”
The students were given laminated shapes and asked to match them to objects found in the prairie — maybe a seed pod for a circle or a leaf for a triangle — and collected their findings in books made from paper lunch sacks they decorated themselves. They smelled sage — and skunk — and later had the chance to observe mudhens from a duck blind near the pond.
Naturalists also hid fox, coyote and deer skins in the grass and challenged the children to find them. It was a lesson in camouflage that students became a part of when they hid in the grass for the “grown-ups” to find.
The visit even involved Hula Hoops — but they weren’t used for their usual purpose. The hoops were placed on the ground and students were asked to identify what they found inside.
“They found worms, spiders, snail shells, new plant shoots … They were kind of looking at the big picture before, but by having the Hula Hoop on the ground, that brings their focus down to the earth,” Benson said.
The PEBC also presents programs for older students, including animal tracking and snowshoeing. Programs are often customized to accommodate teacher goals and students’ ages.
“Instead of trying to package nature up into a little box and bring it into the classroom, we bring (students) out into nature,” said Naturalist Eric Harrold.
Benson and her assistant, Donna Reimer, had heard about the bus earlier in the year and received a grant from Nobles Cooperative Electric to fund the visit. They hope to continue the trip in years to come.
“We brought a snack along, but we didn’t take the time to have it because the kids were so enthralled with being outside. I think that speaks for itself,” Benson said.
To see a gallery of photographs from Worthington Montessori School’s field trip to the Prairie Wetland Center, visit www.dglobe.com.