Education Programs: Our Mission

Connecting People with Nature

Child watches a bird in water.

According to Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder, children are spending more time indoors and less time outside connecting with nature. Research suggests that a lack of experiences outside in the natural world may negatively affect children’s mental and physical health as well as their emotional and intellectual development. Louv refers to the resulting health and developmental issues as nature-deficit disorder. A lack of experiences in the natural world may also prevent children from developing an ethic of caring for the earth. Louv explains,

"Children cannot love what they can never touch...if the young are not bonding with nature now, who will care about the refuges in the future?"

Responding to Louv’s message, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared one of their six national priorities to be Connecting People With Nature: Ensuring the Future of Conservation.

Environmental Education Programs

Children at wildlife education event

Friends of Mid-Columbia River Wildlife Refuges assist the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Connecting People With Nature by offering environmental education programs at McNary National Wildlife Refuge and in the community-at-large. The programs for students of all ages are based on the following premise stated by David Sobel, Director, Center for Place-based Education, Antioch University:

"Authentic environmental commitment emerges out of firsthand experiences with real places on a small, manageable scale."

With this in mind, Friends of Mid-Columbia River Wildlife Refuges leads environmental education programs that immerse students in nature and help inspire them to love and care for the earth. A typical school day program introduces students to the biodiversity, life histories, and ecology of native plants, wildlife, and habitats through experiential and hands-on learning activities. Students also explore the significance of National Wildlife Refuges and the value of conservation. The programs are designed to be sensitive to the cognitive abilities and emotional development of participating students. The programs emphasize scientific understanding, sensory awareness, and creative expression.

Scientific understanding

Children band birds for wildlife study.

Students gain scientific understanding of the natural world through exploring, examining, questioning, and observing. Volunteer educators share their knowledge, identify and describe aspects of nature, and encourage curiosity and inquiry.

Sensory Awareness

Opportunities to touch, listen, see, and smell while in nature sharpen students’ senses, improve their observation skills, enhance their experience of the natural world, and promote healthy emotional development. According to Robin Moore of North Carolina State University, "Children live through their senses. Sensory experiences link the child’s exterior world with their interior, hidden, affective world."

Creative expression

As part of the environmental education programs, volunteer educators encourage creativity through the visual arts, writing, drama, music, or movement. This helps students creatively express their experiences and understanding of nature. Artist and educator, Tony Angel, states, “Since the Stone Age, one culture after another has contributed to a continuous outpouring of artistry focusing on nature. Most suggest a powerful search for kinship with other life.”

Environmental Learning Field Trips

Registration for 2015 field trips at McNary has closed. On December 4, 2014, field trip slots will be filled by a lottery drawing from submitted registrations.

We offer two different types of educational field trips:

Environmental Learning field trips will lead students through a series of four to five hands-on environmental learning stations. Topics will range from the National Wildlife Refuge system, aquatic invertebrates, wetland and shrub-steppe habitats, vertebrates, birds, use of binoculars, and more.

Nature Arts Field Trips

Nature Arts field trips will lead students through careful observation (micro and macro) and recording techniques in science notebook format. Teaching Artist Jenny Rieke teams with a variety of local visual artists to offer a different session each week, focusing on media ranging from pencil, pen and charcoal to water colors, pastels and native fibers. Students will study the flora and fauna of the wetlands and shrub steppe habitats, interpreting their observations by practicing skills, techniques and expression.

Field trips at McNary Refuge are hosted by volunteers from Friends of Mid-Columbia River National Wildlife Refuges, along with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff.

Volunteer Educators

Children collecting, studying, and exploring wildlife.

Children dipping in water to collect specimens.

Volunteer educators have a special role to play in educating the students who visit the Refuge. Not only do they share their knowledge of nature, but they also inspire in students curiosity, wonder, joy, and love. They engage students in age-appropriate activities that reinforce State academic standards as well as encourage meaningful connections with nature. They introduce students to diverse habitats and wildlife and they perform an array of duties such as collecting samples of wetland water, peering through microscopes, observing wildlife from the bird blind, using a compass or GPS unit, examining native plants, storytelling in the teepee, listening to birdsong, and examining animal bones and tracks.

Friends of Mid-Columbia River Wildlife Refuges provide training for volunteer educators. If you would like to become a volunteer educator, please contact us!