On Monday, May 15, conservation parks staff hosted students from John Muir Elementary School at Owen Conservation Park for a pond exploration day. About 175 students from 11 classes, spanning 1st through 5th grades, made the two-block journey from the school to the ponds at the south end of the park. There, they were greeted by local naturalist and Madison FUN (Friends of Urban Nature) volunteer Paul Noeldner and Madison Parks' conservation staff, Brandon Mann, Jay Walters, Laurel Franklin, Tom Bresnahan and myself.
Classes arrived every half hour and were given instruction on how to collect samples of pond life. With nets and plastic bins in hand, kids split into teams and carefully walked single-file through the prairie that surrounds the two ponds, which receive rainwater from the surrounding neighborhood upstream. On the way, they passed the resident flock of turkeys that kept a watchful eye all day long. They also encountered deer, toads, swallows, bluebirds, ducks, a heron and a kingfisher. Tadpoles, dragonfly larvae and leeches were the biggest hits among the numerous aquatic vertebrates and invertebrates collected. Teams brought the samples up to bins of water on tables placed on the trail, and examined them further with magnifying glasses. At the "field station" they also got to examine identification guides, listen to examples of different species of birds' songs, and explore the landscape with binoculars and spotting scopes. ?
While some kids literally "got into it" more than others, everyone seemed happy to be there, learning about nature and just generally being outside at the end of the school year. This is a great example of how teachers can join Madison parks in Connecting Children to Nature!
We give a big "thank you" to Paul Noeldner for his knowledge, gear and enthusiasm, and to Becky Hustad, John Muir Elementary School's Gardener-in-Residence, as well as first and second grade teachers Jen Greenwald and Amy Covey, who made this partnership possible.
Conservation Resources Supervisor