At Camphill Special School we see out students spending much of their day out of doors. They play, they tend to gardens, and they take nature walks.

Nature walks are an important part of the educational day for children. However, nature walks can and should continue into the upper grades and even high school. This essay by Sunii of the B Earth Institute illustrates one way in which nature walks can be important to older children.

I have been taking nature walks even before I could walk. One of my mother’s favorite stories to tell me is how she was so eager for me to be born that she would walk miles along the seashore hoping that hours of walking would encourage me to come into the world.

It didn’t work. I arrived exactly on time. Which is what I still like to do.

However, even after I was born she used to take me on all of her walks in a front pack. I have seen pictures of me grabbing apples while apple picking with her and looking at the sun coming through the trees as she held me close.

When I learned to walk I started to participate in the nature walks. One of my favorite memories is catching butterflies and finding treasures (even the ones that bit me) in the creek near our house. Once I reached the age of twelve my mother allowed me to ride the bike trail near our house with friends. We used to ride miles on the trial. During those rides I’ve seen fawns, geese families, foxes, raccoons and much more.

Taking nature walks has always been an important part of my education but it did not end when I was in grade school. As a 17-year-old I continued exploring outdoors but my explorations took on more meaning and went beyond observation or sport. This past year I’ve accompanied my mother on some of her walks as part of my civics project this year. My chosen project was to pick up trash on the nature trail.

This project was important because people don’t realize that when they throw trash out their car doors or in parking lots or when their trash “misses the trash can” that this trash can then be blown by the wind onto nature trails and wooded areas nearby. The trees or creek on the trail stop the trash and it doesn’t go any farther. Some trash gets stuck in the creek. Many animals use this area as a home – mallards, owls, herons, groundhogs, deer and many other birds and mammals. This trash makes the water they are living in unhealthy for them. In fact, the catfish in the creek all have growths on their skin due to water pollution.

The amount of trash littered in our world has a greater effect on these animals than we can imagine. This is their home. They don’t have a nice suburban house with air conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter. They live outside and spend all their lives out there while we pollute it with various pieces of trash for no reason other than not making the effort to find a trash can. Although the hours one person can spend picking up trash does not have a large impact on these problems it can make a difference in many ways.

Picking up trash in nature can create good habits that will last a lifetime, can set a good example for others, can be something to do with friends or groups to increase the impact, can have a greater impact the more frequently it is done, and can perhaps even make a difference to just one animal and save their life. The one bottle you pick up could be the one that would have suffocated a duckling the next week. The plastic bag you dispose of properly could be the one that would have choked a heron. The picture of the duckling is one my mother took on the trail in May. The family of ducklings we observed were swimming among many pieces of trash including water bottles, bags, cups and cans.

After spending this much time cleaning up the trail my views on wildlife have changed greatly and I can appreciate what types of animals live out there. For as long as I can remember I’ve always adored animals. My appreciation of animals was usually focused on cats, dogs, and other common house pets but I now realize it doesn’t just stop there. Our world has a surplus of wildlife and they have as much of a right to be here as we do. Us as humans should do all we can to help contribute to the recovery of wildlife habitats rather than polluting them with garbage and demolishing them for more space for a shopping mall or a fast food restaurant. There’s nothing we can do about the amount of garbage we produce every day, which will continue to happen. What we can do is make sure that garbage is properly disposed of and doesn’t negatively affect our environment.

While cleaning the nature trail I also had the opportunity to learn about wildlife from my teacher (my mother).

One thing we learned about was monarch butterflies. Their natural habits were brought to my attention. We did our best preserving these to ensure the monarch caterpillars had plenty of space to safely create cocoons. Monarchs’ diets strictly consist of various types of milkweed and when these plants aren’t abundant or are destroyed that just takes away more space for them to grow in. The monarch caterpillar will spend about four weeks in a cocoon before it hatches into a butterfly.

Monarch butterflies are needed to pollinate crops in Iowa and are an important part of the environment. Pesticides and specific eradication of milkweed in Iowa (because it was seen as an “evil weed”) in the past has put the monarch butterfly at risk in Iowa. Now we need to identify where milkweed is, plant more of it and help encourage monarchs to come back to Iowa. Big companies like Monsanto that were key players in destroying butterfly populations are now trying to help with this project.

As part of the monarch restoration project we have also purchased monarch caterpillars and plants from and will be part of a Citizen Scientist Program by planting plots of milkweed in our backyard and raising and releasing monarchs. We started this project by clearing out space for plenty of milkweed to grow in fertile soil. There will be netting around a gazebo for the caterpillars to safely hatch until they can be released and hopefully roam back to our yard and enjoy the milkweed.

Shared with permission from thebearthinstitute

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