Home-school nature program inspires love for nature, lasting friendships

By: Sara Kandel | Farmington Press | Published May 28, 2013

 Tessa Schellenberg and Aidan White look at tadpoles they caught in a pond at the Farmington Hills Nature Center’s Home School Nature Program May 22.

Tessa Schellenberg and Aidan White look at tadpoles they caught in a pond at the Farmington Hills Nature Center’s Home School Nature Program May 22.

Photo by Sara Kandel

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FARMINGTON HILLS — They first arrive with curious eyes, eager to explore the world around them, and over the course of six weeks that follow, they do just that.

Through hands-on activities and real outdoor exploration, they become young scientists — experts in metamorphosis, water cycles, birds, insects, wetland life and more.

The Farmington Hills Nature Center’s Home School Nature Program takes young students, usually between the ages of 4 and 8, and gives them the chance to learn the miracles of nature side-by-side with peers.

“Young kids are open to anything that happens, and it’s all a new discovery for them,” said Carol Fink, a programmer at the nature center. “To be out here in nature, they get to discover things for the first time.”

The nature center first unveiled the home-school program this winter, and while it got off to a slow start, it has since blossomed into a popular option for home-schooling parents in the area — 10 students were enrolled in the spring program, and by the last day of class May 22, many left begging their parents to let them return again in the fall.

It’s a fun experience for them. It’s a chance for them to connect with each other and with nature, and they leave more enlightened because of it. The program not only provides knowledge and friendship, but a better understanding of the way the natural world works, and over the six-week class, many of the students take that knowledge and expand upon it.

When 5-year-old Joshua Cripe wandered off to collect bugs during class one day, he told Fink he thought the insect world was so exciting and interesting that he wanted to build a terrarium at home.

“We usually encourage students to leave here what they find here, but when a little boy gives you an answer like that, how can you say no?” Fink said.

She has spent many Wednesdays since helping Cripe collect natural artifacts from the park — roly-polies, rocks and more.

“Not only have they become good scientists, but also they’ve become really good friends,” Fink said. “They all come in with different skill strengths and they mostly have fun, but they also learn; they get it — they connect with nature.”

Cripe’s love for animals and nature was the reason his mom enrolled him in the program. “I just love animals. All animals. I really love the cheetah because it is the fastest animal in the world. And tadpoles. I love tadpoles because I love frogs, and tadpoles become frogs,” he said. 

Not all the kids start the class with the same passion, but by the end of the program, most of them have it.

“We sort of help encourage it. They end up with a passion for nature — that’s for sure,” Fink said.

The program, held 1-2:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, is split into halves. Fink and fellow programmer Dan Lubin run the second half of class. Tara White runs the first half of class.

“We spend some time inside the classroom doing some exploratory activities, exploring the subject, and then we go outside and do hands-on exploration,” White explained.

“Today, I have some cutouts for them and they are going to create their own wetland area, and then when Dan and Carol take them outside, they are going to do some ponding. They’ll actually get to dip their nets in the pond outside and look at the little macro-invertebrates.”

The kids loved it.

“What we just did was the most fun because when we had to catch stuff, I liked it,” said 6-year-old Isiah Clancy. “I catched a lot of tadpoles. I like the nets.”

“I caught a tadpole. It was this big,” smiled 7-year-old Amelie Taylor.

“I like everything we do, but today might be the best,” said 8-year-old Aidan White.

The program brings kids together for fun learning experiences and gives them the opportunity to make new friends. White was just one of the kids to forge a friendship throughout the course of the six-week class.

During classroom time, Aidan White sat next to Tessa Schellenberg. During outdoor time, the two were quick to pair up. To a casual observer, the duo looked like life-long friends.

“They’re inseparable,” Fink said. “They met for the first time on the first day of class and now they do everything together. They really are inseparable.”

When the final day of class came to an end, more than one child greeted their parents with pleas to schedule play dates.

“It’s a great program,” Fink said. “I love it, and it gives kids the chance to really connect with nature. It’s a lot of fun. We all have fun. They make new friends, and it gives them a sense of connective-ness.

“I think once kids learn how to understand nature, they are going to want to protect it more, so we hope to instill in them a sense of stewardship and the importance of protecting our natural resources.”

The home-school nature program won’t start again until the fall, but the nature center offers a variety of summer programs. For more information on those programs, visit www.ci.farmington-hills.mi.us or call (248) 477-1135. The Farmington Hills Nature Center is located at 24915 Farmington Road.

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