Part of helping children forge a positive connection to nature is allowing them time to be in nature with an experienced and knowledgeable guide like Lucas. Debbie explains, “You can’t stay inside and learn everything from an academic or theoretical point of view. You could study bald eagles on the internet, but it is different when you experience it. There’s an emotional response. Going outside is how you internalize learning about nature.” And that’s what makes learning stick.
The wonder of watching a butterfly’s metamorphosis, finding a salamander under a rock, or discovering why winter is quieter than the other seasons—these are just some of the joys of learning about nature while being immersed in it. And it is hard to imagine a better place for young children to explore nature than Lowell’s tree-filled, eight-acre campus adjacent to Rock Creek Park. Bundled up in puffy jackets and boots, seeing their breath condense as they head into the wintry air, Kindergartners and 1st graders observe that Rock Creek is half water and half ice and develop hypotheses to explain the phenomenon. On another day, they learn what nearby deer need to survive the coldest months in Washington, DC.
No doubt, nature can be both awesome and fearsome. So, in addition to scientific thinking, Lucas helps his students gain practical knowledge about the outdoors that helps keep them safe while they are exploring. When Kindergarten Teacher Rosa Royle mentioned to Lucas that some of the children were afraid of bees, Lucas developed a lesson on the benefits of bees and what to do when a bee bothers you. On a subsequent hike through Rock Creek Park, Lucas taught students how to recognize poison ivy and gave them a rhyme to help them remember: “Hairy vine is no friend of mine.” He has heard kids reciting the rhyme as they confidently walk through the woods weeks, even months, afterward.