Monday, January 19, 2015

Engaging the next generation: a legacy

by Beth Sullivan

Next to actually watching wildlife and getting out on the preserves to observe, my favorite thing to do is get kids engaged.   It  has been a joy over the last decades to introduce classes of children, now adults themselves, to the wonders of the natural world.  Starting with my own children, and soon grandchildren, making sure the younger ones understand the importance of conservation has been my goal.  But I have learned that it is not usually about classes.  Often, the best lessons learned come when there is no plan, no goal for instruction, just curiosity and a sense of adventure.  With that comes a greater sense of wanting to learn and understand.  That is followed by a desire to seek “ownership” and responsibility for those things a child or youngster has come to know and love. That is how naturalists and conservationists are created.
Letting kids loose in nature, with an enthusiastic adult to field questions and guide explorations, is a great way to develop a love for being on a special piece of land.

Families forge bonds by working together

Over the last several years with Avalonia, I have had the pleasure of working with a few families with younger children.  I have watched how the parents engage those kids outdoors, encouraging involvement and learning, and joining them in family activities that create not only memories but a sense of bonding over what is important.  
Making Wood Duck boxes for the Anguilla Brook Preserve was a family effort.

One family worked to create birdhouses for the Knox preserve. From building to installing them, the kids were involved.  This past fall, the family worked together to help me, by cleaning them out for the fall.  What an interesting adventure, to be able to peek inside, examine the contents, determine which species of bird made the nest, look for unhatched eggs, and decide if leaving the contents  for a resident mouse might indeed be a kind thing to do.    In a recent blog I talked about different ways to help feed the birds in the winter.  Another youngster in the family took the information to heart, and with their family, pulled out bird books and planting guides and made time this winter to study together. That is a legacy!
Dad and daughter mowed one of the Knox fields for us.
Siblings made birdhouses with their home school class and joined us in the field to put them up.

The special stewards of Knox Family Farm Preserve 

Another wonderful family abuts our Knox Family Farm Preserve.  I first met the family after Hurricane Sandy dropped huge amounts of debris on the trails there. We all worked together to cut trees,  move limbs, and clear the paths. In the following years, these young fellows have adopted that preserve as their personal challenge.   When we  thought of an entry via Kayak along the cove,  they first created a hitching post for those who want to pull up to shore and secure their boats.  Over Thanksgiving they installed cedar steps up the bank; these will aid the ascent up a steep slope but also protect it from erosion.   Over Christmas they completed a new loop trail, which will be blazed white, that has added  a nice length of trail in the north part of the property.   This family has worked together on projects that not only help Avalonia, but also enhance the property and make it better for all who hike there: They have also forged a bond with that land.
Brothers helped us clear fallen debris after Sandy.

Thanks to young stewards there is now a rail to tie up our boats and steps up the bank from  Quanaduck Cove.

If I could use my crystal ball to see decades into the future, my guess is that this family will be among our next generation of  conservationists, having learned to love and protect the land through valuable first hand lessons.  I thank them all for their efforts and salute the parents who join their children on the trails and give them the opportunity to learn this way.
Avalonia strives to protect these lands, not just for the wildlife and habitats, but as places to grow future stewards and protectors of our lands in perpetuity!
Younger knees and backs can help with lots of tasks!

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

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