Teachers at heart, nature club members spread love of nature

  • A warbler

Published: 10/8/2018 8:42:46 AM

Sometimes it’s easy forget that just because we live on the edge of the state’s greatest wildlife preserve, that knowledge and appreciation of the natural world around us just seeps into the consciousness of young people.

It turns out the youngsters among us need a little nudge, if just a little one, to set loose their curiosity and excitement about nature. Recently, that nudge has come from a partnership of The Athol Bird and Nature Club the Athol Area YMCA and the Athol Community Elementary School that has taken the form of a five-week after-school nature program.

And what a great community partnership it has turned out to be.

David Small, president of the Athol Bird and Nature Club, says that along with his fellow club members, he’s been teaching various nature related topics to younger pupils – teaching them about trees by examining leaves with magnifying glasses, for example.

“It is something different each week so it keeps them engaged,” YMCA Childcare and Family Services Director Megan Shaughnessy explained in a recent Daily News story.

Jeanette Robichaud, executive director of the Athol Area YMCA, said the nature program is supported by a grant from by state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

To kick off the after-school program, Small took the youngsters outside with butterfly nets and allowed them to collect insects, spiders and other critters they found.

“We brought them back to a picnic table and using Tom Murray’s guide to the insects of New England, we were able to show the diversity of things that were right in their own backyard there at the school,” said Small.

Shaughnessy also emphasized the importance of focusing on what the community has to offer when teaching the children about nature.

“Especially where we live there is so much right outside that is important to learn about … they get to learn about not only nature, but the nature in their own community,” she said.

The program also has utilized the resources available from the Millers River Environmental Center, such as specimens of different birds and trees. During the lesson on birds, the group used smart phones to listen to bird calls, which fed a discussion about animal vocalization.

“That was kind of fun ... again, it was using the resources of the center and then using the technology that is available today to bring it together,” he said.

The pupils also learned about pollinators by building bees out of yellow, black and white pipe cleaners. Small said they discussed plants, the function of bees in our food chain.

“The kids are really smart. They did a wonderful job on all of these different things and asked good questions. They are energetic and are really curious,” Small observed.

It was heartening to hear the youngsters were so engaged in their lessons, and it was just as encouraging to see that there are adults and organizations in the community willing to spend time and money to fuel that young enthusiasm. The members of the Athol Bird and Nature Club are no doubt thrilled to find they can turn on their young charges to the excitement of our natural world, perhaps encouraging the students to range farther afield literally and figuratively, as they grow, here at the edge of Quabbin Reservoir. That’s the payoff. And perhaps the club’s nature lessons will even spark one or more students to carry their studies beyond their backyards into high school, college and beyond.

The Athol Bird and Nature Club, said Small, was started by a local group of eighth grade science teachers.

“One of the things about the club is that we look at everything. We look at plants and birds and astronomy and geology, all of these different fields. So anyone who is interested in any form of nature can find people to commiserate with on those topics,” he said.

In the future, Small said he hopes to continue bringing similar programs to students in the North Quabbin area. And we hope they do, too.

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