WARSAW — Summer is the time of year when most kids are out of school and looking for something to do. When asked why it is so important to make sure kids get outdoors and interact with nature, Sheila Wieringa, recreation director for the Warsaw Parks Department, believes it to simply be “part of the duty of the parks department.”
One program accomplishing this mission is called Wildlife Explorers. This is the first year for the program and it was implemented because Wieringa wanted to “breathe new life into the science and nature programs.”
The lesson plan and workbook for the six-week program is put together by the National Recreation and Park Association. Basing their decision off the provided material, the parks department determined it would just be offered to children ages 6-12.
As of the beginning of the program there were five participants who meet one hour each Wednesday at the Pete Thorn Center activities room and then explore Lucerne Park. Weather permitting, the explorers with their instructor, Jordan Alber, will spend the majority of their time outdoors and create any crafts related to that week’s theme indoors.
According to Wieringa each week will have a new theme. The themes will vary from learning about birds to pollution to how to use a magnifying glass to mammals that can be found in the Warsaw and Kosciusko County area. A few guest speakers are also planned to visit and discuss specific subjects related to their field and what the kids are learning.
Entering the program the kids seemed eager to learn about nature without knowing a great deal about any of the topics they would be covering. During their first class, the kids started with a scavenger hunt collecting leaves, sticks, rocks and bark. The items they collected in their bag were used at the end of class to write their name or make a picture on a piece of paper.
One of the most exciting parts of the day was learning how to tell the age of a tree. Alber taught the students how to use a magnifying glass to count the rings on a tree stump. He also suggested measuring the trunk of a tree with the number of inches around the trunk being the tree’s age in years. While the kids seemed hesitant at first, soon they were choosing multiple different trees of all sizes to see the difference in age between the trees throughout Lucerne Park.
The fact trees are alive was discussed when the explorers were able to learn the basics of photosynthesis by watching oxygen bubbles rise from a leaf placed underwater for approximately an hour. After learning how to use a magnifying glass with the tree stump, the young explorers also were thrilled to find ants and other bugs on the ground.
The second week of the program a canoe trip was planned which many of the explorers were excited for. Ethan Chase, one of the five explorers, also shared his hopes of making a compass during the program since he has never done that before.
Learning about nature and all it has to offer is particularly important for this age group, Wieringa believes. Not only participation in this program but simply getting outdoors and learning about nature will help teach these children what they have and that they need to preserve it for the future.
Other summer events that can help the whole family get outdoors and enjoy nature are free concerts, family movie nights, library stories in the park, an imagination station for children ages 3-7 and a beach bash for ages 6-12 Aug. 1.