Green Dragon Young Naturalist Program 2008

(from B.N.S. Newsletter – Fall 2008)

by Suman Gupta, with notes by Harold Forsyth

It is impossible not to take delight in a pair of flve-year-olds giggling hysterically upon discovering the water-absorbing, sponge-like qualities of a certain green seaweed. As well, one can’t help but feel a certain smug triumph over the seductive world of video games and TV when, after pointing out the seed-dispersal strategy of Touch-me-not (Jeweiweed) to an eleven-year-old, he turns to his peers and proceeds to demonstrate in awe how the seed pods of this beautiful, orange, trumpet-shaped flower burst when touched.

Andrew Kelly and I were lucky enough to spend our summer essentially playing in the woods and on beaches with 5-to-12-year-olds, mucking in mud, catching grasshoppers, hunting for fossils, and much, much more. Despite the persistently cloudy skies and the occasional rainstorm, Green Dragon had more than 250 happy children and day-camp and daycare counsellors pass through its program by summer’s end. The feedback from kids and counsellors
alike was overwhelmingly positive and led to several requests that we invite them back next summer. We certainly hope to be able to do so.

Over the course of six weeks in July and August of 2008, Green Dragon took five municipal day-camps (Hantsport, Kentville, New Minas, Avonport, and Canning) and two daycares (Apple Tree Landing and New Minas Baptist Church) on three specific field trips: Blomidon Provincial Park, Smileys Provincial Park, and Pennys/Blue Beach in Avonport.

When possible, we began each week with Blomidon Provincial Park. The open group campsite and ample supply of wild strawberries and hopping grasshoppers at the top of the cape made this an ideal place to begin “training” our young naturalists. After briefly explaining what naturalists do and laying down one essential ground rule (R-E-S-P-E-C-T for nature, each other and ourselves), we handed out bug examiners and hiked down toward the beach.

We encountered colourful mushrooms, examined ladybird beetles and slugs, and explained why Englishman’s foot was called English-man’s foot. We questioned why butterflies and moths were so different from each other in colour and applied the same logic to the differences between grasshoppers and crickets. The more botanically minded kids were intrigued by the perforated leaves of St. John’s-wort and the square-stemmed mint. After lunch, we headed to the beach, where several groups played in the waterfall, others built mud walls against a quickly incoming tide, and yet others waded in the salty waters. If the tide was receding, there were plenty of tidal pools to discover crabs in. By the end of the day, not a single child was clean or dry, but the smiles spoke volumes.

SMILEYS PROVINCIAL PARK

We suspect that Smileys proved to be the most exciting of the field trips for the kids. Armed with nets and buckets, we waded into the river to observe and become a part of the ecosystem that is home to minnows, waterskippers, caddisfly and stonefly larvae, dragon- and damseifly nymphs, and several other, more cryptic, water creatures. We were able to identify a couple of deer and raccoon tracks, and we observed wolf spiders up close and personal. The beautiful Ebony Jewelwing and Cedar Waxwings even made an occasional appearance. After lunch and a swim, we visited the “porcupine tree,” where almost everyone was able to come away with at least one porcupine quill to take home.

The tamest of the three trips, this was by no means boring. Although fossils were a major focus, exciting discoveries of the still-living world were made: stinkbugs and periwinkles, sea lettuce and barnacles, and even eagle and shorebird sightings. Several kids and counsellors found and made significant fossil contributions to the Blue Beach Fossil Museum, whereas many others took home pocketfuls of rocks containing fossilized fish scales and bones, plant material, imprints of water-bug resting spots, raindrops, and much more.

When the number of children and counsellors (mostly high school and university-aged youth) that attended Green Dragon is multiplied by the number of trips we took them on, it amounts to more than 750 individual nature-based experiences that were provided to young people in Kings County. This is a fairly phenomenal task for the Blomidon Naturalists Society to have taken on, and it would’ve been impossible without the vital support of several sponsors. Green Dragon and BNS would like to thank TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, the Shell Environmental Fund, Nature Nova Scotia, and Human Resources and Social Development Canada for significant funding that allowed for bus rentals and support staff and materials to ensure smooth functioning of Green Dragon this year.

HAROLD FORSYTH’S NOTE ON THE PROGRAM

We had a very successful young naturalist program over the summer. We received funding of $5,000 from the Shell Environmental Fund $3,500 from TD Friends of the Environment, $3,600 from the federal Summer Employment Program, $500 from Nature Nova Scotia, and a commitment from BNS. With help from Glenys Gibson and Charlane Bishop, we hired Suman Gupta and James Kelly to organize and deliver the summer program Suman and James were enthusiastic and proficient and did a great job.

We had three goals for our program

1. To give kids an appreciation of nature with a hands on, outdoor, fun experience, ultimately making them better future stewards of our environment.

2. Offer direction and an opportunity for experience in learning and teaching nature to our summer students that they will be able to carry forward in their careers. We were successful here with two great students, Suman and James, who still had enthusiasm after the summer program ended.

3. Introduce a positive experience in nature to the counsellors from the recreation departments and daycares who accompanied the children so that they will hopefully share that experience in their own future programs. Thirty-five counsellors participated in our program, and by all accounts it was a positive experience for them.

Overall, the Green Dragon summer program of 2008 was a great success and I would recommend that the Blomidon Naturalists Society continue the program again next year.