My oldest son turns 4 next month. I’ve watched him morph from baby to toddler to preschooler. I have one more year until he’ll be going to Kindergarten and that thought makes me sad, really sad. My rambunctious outdoor kid stuck inside of a classroom under florescent lights breathing re-circulated air all day long. It’ll be a whole new world than the one he is used to now. I’m an advocate for children in nature, I wish I could send my kids to a Forest Kindergarten but…part of me thinks this transition from wild child to reformed kindergartner might be okay, and here’s why.
It’s because people like my good friend and childhood neighbor, Molly Ward are doing incredible things to bring the natural world to life for our kids.
A few months ago when Molly mentioned her new business, Mountain Goat Instructional Design I had to ask her for an interview. If you frequent this blog often then I know you’re just as interested in education, science and the outdoors as I am, especially if you’re an outdoor parent.
Today we’re publishing the first part of her interview, tomorrow we’ll finish up with the second part. If you like it and think what Molly is doing is important be sure to hop on over to her website, or visit her on facebook or twitter too.
What is Mountain Goat Instructional Design?
Instructional Design refers to the design of instruction. Mountain Goat Instructional Design is my educational consulting business where I provide teaching and learning solutions—meaning I work on projects to help teachers teach and learners learn. Teachers range from classroom teachers to other educators and parents. Learners can be any age and in any setting. My background and focus is in science, so I mainly work on science-related projects. For example, I have developed activities for teachers to teach about water, dinosaurs, forest fire, cells and other science topics in their classrooms, written activity books for children to learn about the Yellowstone River and Lake Tahoe, and created websites for both kids and teachers, such as www.DiscoverWater.org. These days, the term “Instructional Design” also carries a connection to technology. I can design online learning experiences, but I always aim for what I call strategic incorporation of technology when I’m creating teaching and learning experiences—using technology when it is meaningful, not just because it is there. The Mountain Goat part comes from my love of exploring Montana’s mountains and the fact that I’m a bit of a mountain goat myself (my title is Top Goat). Plus, Mountain Goats are just cool!
Mountain Goat Instructional Design, LLC—Elevated ideas.
How did the idea come about?
I’ve always worked in the field of informal science education. My educational background includes an MS in Science Education and before that a BS in Geology. As a Geology major I started working for Montana Outdoor Science School as an instructor and quickly realized I liked and was good at teaching. My outdoor education experience kept me from being interested in being tied to a conventional classroom. My other jobs have been in Yellowstone National Park, at the Museum of the Rockies and the Project WET (Water Education for Teachers) Foundation. I started my own business to be able to work on multiple projects with multiple companies and organizations instead of being at the whim of available funding for just one.
What are a few of your goals?
As a business owner, my goals include first and foremost being able to support myself while doing what I love and keeping balance in my life (not always easy!). I live in Montana for a reason (to get outside!) and having my own business makes taking full advantage of that possible. As far as goals for Mountain Goat Instructional Design I would like to expand my offerings to include some science education products (curriculum, teaching materials and even toys) and services such as customized maps and activities for schools to better utilize their schoolyards and nearby (within walking distance) natural settings for learning (if your school is interested please let me know!).
You focus a lot on science and children in nature. Why is the connection between science, nature, and children so important?
In January, I was lucky to get to see Neil deGrasse Tyson (host of the popular PBS show Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey) speak in Bozeman. My favorite quote from the evening was, “you should think of science not as a thing, but as everything.” Science is part and parcel to everything in our lives. By exploring the world around us, kids, and adults for that matter start to identify and appreciate the connectedness of everything.
There are plenty of research-based answers as to why connecting children to science and nature is important, and they are relevant, but my passion for this comes from my experience. I grew up in the Montana outdoors and I have developed a very strong connection to my environment. I think you have to appreciate and value something to care about it.
What can parents, educators and anyone who loves kids do to help children make this connection? What advice do you have for parents and teachers when it comes to connecting children with nature?
You don’t have to be a scientist by trade to be able to explore science in nature and the nature of science. With kids, the first step is venturing beyond your doorstep. Nature is a living laboratory that gives kids an outlet for their curiosity. Get outside, even if it’s just on your lawn or a city park (last night I had a blast throwing rocks in an alley puddle with a two-year-old). Use your senses. Look under things. Lay on the ground to see more closely. Climb a tree to feel the bark. Close your eyes and listen, smell. Get dirty, muddy, wet. The primary goal is to experience nature, not necessarily to quantify what is being learned. As your curiosity is peaked, remember that you don’t have to know all the answers. There are plenty of resources out there to help you. Take photos or make sketches of flowers, insects, rocks, etc. to look up later (extend the experience at home in the evening or on a rainy day). Extend it again by trying to find more of the same (or different) flowers, insects, rocks, etc. the next time you are out. Without even noticing you are observing, recording, researching, testing, posing questions, making connections and finding explanations.
(note: you might get wet and muddy while investigating macroinvertebrates but go for it!)
One of my favorite ways to help kids get a sense of connectedness in our world is macroinvertebrates (macro=large enough to see without a microscope, invertebrates=animals without backbones). These are the little creatures you find under rocks in a stream. They are fun to find and observe. Many macroinvertebrates are insects such as dragonflies or caddisflies in a larval stage. They provide a door into teaching about the concept of metamorphosis and life cycles. Many are sensitive to changes in their environments and their presence or absence indicates water quality. Macroinvertebrates are also what fly fisher-people emulate when tying flies—because macroinvertebrates and the adult insects they become are critical food for fish and other aquatic life. Now we are talking about biology, ecology and even art and recreation. As you can see, a simple, fun natural observation can lead to all sorts of connectedness in the bigger picture, and appreciation for many reasons to protect the habitat for these key critters.
If you want to check out your local macroinvertebrates, take some of the following easy-to-find and inexpensive materials out with you (whatever makes sense):
- Ice cube trays
- Plastic spoons
- Eye droppers
- Plastic cups
- Dish tray
- Magnifying glasses
- Colored pencils
Carefully collect some rocks and water from a safe stream location. Observe what you find! Make drawings, try to identify (here’s a free to use ID key), take photos and do your ID later at home, research what each macroinvertebrate morphs into as an adult (you will be amazed at how they change), look for smaller things in the water, discuss how macroinvertebrates might be able to breathe (follow up with research)…the door to doing science is open!
And that’s where we’ll leave the interview for today but tune in tomorrow for the rest of the interview. Molly will give outdoor families a few more tips for discovering nature right in our own backyards!
Thanks Molly for the interview and we’ll catch the rest of you tomorrow.
(ps Can you do us a favor and forward this blog post or share it on social media with your friends and family who like me, want to see more of this type of outdoor education taught to our children? Thanks!)