Don's Jersey Birding: Bergen Audubon’s Jr. Naturalist Program Helps Kids Connect with Nature

Connecting our children with nature is the most important task of everyone who cares about the future of conservation.
 Photo courtesy of Marie Longo

By Don Torino

The woodlot down the street we played in as kids has been long gone, the pond where we saw our first Wood Duck and fished for Bluegills is covered over and the field of Milkweed and Goldenrod where we loved to watch butterflies is now a strip mall. We all know too well what has happened, the wonderful places we enjoyed as kids are gone. These are the places that we  now love  to reminisce about, the extraordinary settings where we saw our first Red-Tailed Hawk and watched in amazement as our very first Box Turtle lumbered  along the forest floor.  

As much as those memories bring a bit of sadness to us now, what if we never got to experience them at all?  What if we grew up never hearing a Wood Thrush or watching a Hummingbird sip nectar from a flower? What if we never had those special connections with the wild things around us? How different would our lives be now?  And what kind of people would we have become?  Sadly enough, this is the way most of our children are now growing up, no woods to witness a Woodpecker, no pond to discover Dragonflies and no fields to contemplate a Bumble Bee.  If our children continue disconnected to nature then the end  result  will eventually and ultimately  mean no future generation  to care about our environment.

High school student Patrick Carney help the Junior Naturalist Students learn about pond life at Teaneck Creek.
Photo courtesy of Don Torino

The challenges ahead for all environmental groups and for anyone who cares about the future of our environment are vast, from global warming to habitat preservation but none may be more urgent, more critical than getting our kids linked and connected to the natural world around them. It is with that task in mind that Bergen County Audubon Society conducted its 2nd annual Junior Naturalist program.

“Kids can best connect with nature by getting outside and exploring the natural world right outside their doors,” said Marie Longo, BCAS Education chairperson and creator of the Jr. Naturalist Program. "They need to get their hands in the soil, plant a bird or butterfly garden, observe birds and insects and keep a nature journal of what they see and hear, even take part in a citizen science project which is a great family activity and just get started finding  their own way to connect with the natural world around them.”

The BCAS Jr. Naturalist class of 2013
  photo by Marie Longo

The eleven students between the ages of 7 and 12 gathered at Teaneck Creek Conservancy for the program and were given lessons on birds, butterflies, reptiles, plants, and mammals and how all those things interrelate, but best of all they got to be kids in nature. They got to touch, smell, and even get their hands dirty while connecting with the natural world around them.

Marie, who spends many months organizing, working on the presentations and lesson plan for the program thinks her students should be connecting to nature with the help of their families. “Parents should encourage kids to spend more time outdoors, visit a park or nature center together. By sharing the experience together as a family you'll be amazed at what everyone will learn. Parents need to guide kids to form a positive relationship with nature, so that they become responsible stewards of the places that wildlife call home."

High school student, Patrick Carney, helps the Jr. Naturalist learn about pond life and connect with nature.
photo courtesy of Don Torino

Rachel Carson once said, “Only as a child's awareness and reverence for the wholeness of life are developed can his humanity to his own kind reach its full development.”
It is up to all of us; conservation groups, teachers, moms, dads, grandparents, and neighbors to take a child outside.  Let them run through the fallen leaves, dig in the soil, and feel the rain on their heads, let them watch a Robin feed their young , see a snake bask in the sun, and a squirrel bury an acorn for winter. Allow them to learn how nature works that it is real and it takes place right outside their door.
For more info on the Bergen County Audubon Society Jr. Naturalist program contact Marie Longo

Don Torino is the President of the Bergen County Audubon Society.

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