Playing Outside Fosters a Love for Nature

Metompkin Elementary second graders wait for the buses after their field trip at Brownsville Preserve.

Metompkin Elementary second graders wait for the buses after their field trip at Brownsville Preserve.

Enhances classroom learning

The boardwalk cut through the marsh, live and dead trees mingled at the edge, and salt marsh grass dominated. The narrow planks ushered the students into a single file line. They marched with an occasional bounce on the toes or wide sweep of the arms, barely able to contain their excitement. Their chatter, a dull roar, startled nearby wildlife. A little voice, half way down the line, called out, “This is the best field trip. I never want to leave!”

The second graders walked along The Nature Conservancy’s Birding and Wildlife Trail at Brownsville Preserve in Nassawadox, Va. led by the Virginia Eastern Shore Land Trust (VES Land Trust) and some hearty volunteers. They explored upland forest and marsh habitats, looked for birds, discovered seeds, and found signs of wildlife like stumps pecked by a woodpecker. As soon as they reached the end of the boardwalk, the neat single file line erupted in excitement. “What’s that?” they all shouted and pointed in every direction.

Each moment on the trail offered an opportunity to learn something new. A turkey vulture glided above the trees, the students stopped, looked, listened, and then talked about what they saw. Reflecting on the field trip, Lauren remembered, “On the vultures back, the feathers are big and on its stomach they are short. I learned that a turkey vulture can fly without its wings flapping.”

“We hope to encourage the kids’ natural curiosity, connect them to nature, and open the door to a lifelong relationship with the land, plants, and animals,” said Hali Plourde-Rogers, VES Land Trust Executive Director.

Following the field trip, Corinne Vincent, a second grade teacher at Metompkin Elementary, was reading E.B. White’s Stuart Little aloud to her class. In the book Stuart is dumped out of a garbage truck onto a scow and towed out into the Atlantic Ocean for disposal. “My students were appalled and instantly blurted, ‘That’s pollution!’” said Mrs. Vincent. “The kids cared less about the character’s fate than about the garbage going into the ocean habitat. They were very concerned about wildlife – remembering how we found a mylar balloon in the woods on our walk, and learning that sea turtles can die from ingesting them. It was one of my proudest moments as a teacher,” beamed Mrs. Vincent.

Playing outside nurtures appreciation for nature. Children who play outside are more likely to care for nature as adults. They explore with all of their senses. And what they see, hear, smell, and feel sticks with them: “When the trees get old, the trees have lines and the lines tell you how old the tree is. I learned how sea turtles cannot eat balloons because the sea turtles get sick and die,” confirmed AJ.