Apr 15

ARKive is partnering with the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) to celebrate EE Week – the nation’s largest celebration of environmental education. We’ve invited some top-notch guest bloggers to share their story of exploring the natural world outside with ARKive in support of this year’s EE Week theme, ‘Taking Technology Outdoors’. Kicking off the week is Sarena, an environmental educator and mother of an adorable little girl, who shares how she has used ARKive to discover new-to-you species in their local ecosystem. Let’s see what outdoor adventures Sarena and her daughter experienced with ARKive!

Species Discovery through my kid’s eyes

Hello blogosphere! Before I delve into the fantasticness that is the ARKive activity, let me introduce myself. I am not a blogger; this is my first foray into this realm. But I am an environmental educator as my ‘regular job’ with a background in biology and zoology, as well as a mom who shares my love and appreciation for the natural world with my nearly nine year old daughter on a daily basis. This is an important point to remember when it comes to the activity we chose to experience.

IMAG1735 (2).jpgjThe kid and I decided to try out the Species Discovery activity. I think it’s fantastic to go explore, see what you see, and then decide what it is based on the behaviors, appearances, diet, and so forth (there’s the biologist in me!). Problem becomes when you, the parent, realize finding a place to go, to which you’ve never been, in the limited amount of free time in your currently busy (ok, let’s face it, currently busy? When is that never true?) schedule is exceptionally difficult. (Score one for the environmental educator exploratory parent! And yet, not helpful in this instance. Cue disappointed game show sounds.) I wracked my brain and was delighted to have a light bulb moment. There is a riparian habitat preserve to which the kid has never been. As we drove the discussion in the car was excited chatter about the goals of our exploration. She was prepared with her camera and anticipated getting pictures and video. We arrived, brought along our umbrellas to block the toasty sun (and prevent our pale wintery skin from gaining a particularly unhealthy pink glow), grabbed the camera and water, and began the adventure.

Capturing photos and video was easy. Spotting animals and plants we’d never seen…not so much. Luckily there were some birds neither she nor I knew. Our time came to a close and we hopped back into the car, where she spent the ride revisiting the experience and carefully analyzing the best pictures and finalizing her decision. Over the next week and a half we continued to discuss the time we spent at the preserve and the activity goals. One evening we brought her younger cousin with us to an arts event. In the car I giggled to myself while pretending to not listen to the exchange happening in the back seat. The kid authoritatively showed the pictures and video to her cousin, while explaining that she was going to give that bird a scientific name and describe all about it since she’d never seen this bird before our adventure. He responded with a frustrating “oh I’ve seen that. I know what that is.” The kid was unimpressed when his response to her query of the name of the bird was “I don’t know!” and remained confident in her choice.

After homework one evening we had some minutes to spare and sat down to complete the other part of the project. The kid was curious about what a scientific name was and I caught myself beginning to describe Linnaeus taxonomy and that scientific names are in Latin. Blank stare. Oops. Luckily for me, she’s incredibly patient with me especially during my moments of biology nerdiness. I simplified and we talked about how scientific names are the same for animals no matter where the animal is found, as a way for all scientists to know what animal another scientist is discussing, while common names are often different in different places. She understood (at least there wasn’t a blank stare in response), especially when we talked about different languages people speak in different countries and made the comparison to names.

Overall, the adventure this activity afforded us was one I greatly value for a variety of reasons. One, I got to spend some fun time with my kid, looking from her point of view at the world around us. This is vital to me as a parent and an educator. Two, it was another opportunity to appreciate nature and how scientists work. A recent quote from the kid that gave me a ‘parenting win’ moment was “Scientists are always curious and clever. I’m always curious, so I’m a scientist.” I’m so incredibly glad she has that perspective! Three, stretching myself as a parent and an educator. Writing this blog post is definitely a step out of my comfort zone, but a huge step I am happy to take. I assume if you are a fan of ARKive, you probably already appreciate nature and get out into it as much as possible (although we all know what assuming does…), but regardless I feel compelled to say: get outside. Explore the world around you away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Take off those modern convenience blinders and see where you are. And bring along your kid(s), or borrow a few (with permission, of course!), or both. Learn through their eyes. Then share it.

Sarena G, Environmental Educator and Mom