Passport to nature
September 16, 2009
This Saturday, September 19, area families will converge at Calvin College’s Ecosystem Preserve to hike the trails, make leaf prints, enjoy a scavenger hunt and create “bugs” from recycled materials. Each family will also be picking up a passport to a whole world of outdoor exploration.
Saturday marks the kickoff event for the Connecting Families with Nature Passport Program, held from 10 a.m. through 4 p.m. at the Vincent and Helen Bunker Interpretive Center. The program partners the Calvin Ecosystem Preserve with five area nature centers: Ada Township Park, Blandford Nature Center, Howard Christenson Nature Center, John Ball Park Zoo and the Wittenbach/Wege Agriscience and Environmental Education Center. It is funded through a $16,800 EPA regional environmental education grant to the Kent Conservation District.
"We just wanted to get families outside with their kids, enjoying nature,” said Calvin Ecosystem Preserve Program Manager Jeanette Henderson about the program. “Your parents probably said to you, ‘Go play outside.’ That doesn’t get said as much anymore.”
Recent research about children and technology prompted the partners to create the Passport program.
"Studies have indicated that kids spend exorbitant amounts of time connected to some technology form and very little time outside,” Henderson said. “Thus, they’re becoming disconnected from the natural world. Instead of going to play in the sandbox and make mud pies, they’re playing video games all day long.”
To plug them back in, the partnership has devised the passport, which will allow children to accrue points for the stuff they do outdoors—things like nature hikes, skiing, snow shoeing, conservation projects and other activities. Once they get outdoors, kids are quick to develop a taste for nature, Henderson said: “They’re naturally curious. They love this stuff.”
She is quick to emphasize that the program isn’t anti-technology. “We just want a balance,” she said.
All of the activities will be sponsored at the various partnering sites: “The nature centers and the zoo are placed strategically throughout Kent County so they’re accessible by families,” Henderson said. At the end of the year, the program will hold a big celebration at John Ball Park Zoo.
Accessible and affordable
A big benefit of the program is its affordability, said Henderson: "We’re hoping to reach families of all economic levels. And because of the partnership between the nature centers, those families will find a wide swath of nature open to them. Together we have a greater impact."
And while the partners want families to visit the nature centers, they also want them to explore nature a little closer to home: “We want them, obviously, to use the resources of Kent County, but we also want them to go out into their own backyards,” Henderson said. “We want them to have the experiences that we had: Playing in the creek, making mud pies, catching bugs, picking wildflowers. Most kids would rather be outside than inside—the kids I’ve met,” she said.
~by Myrna Anderson, communications and marketing