A year of wonder

A year in review from Lower School's Young Naturalist Program.
By Lauren Hagan, LS Naturalist Teacher

“Naturalists are full of wonder!” That is the line that appears at the bottom of our USN Naturalists’ Accord. I can say unequivocally that our Lower School naturalists have achieved this goal again and again all year long. Outside in the forests, lakes, rivers, wetlands, and fields, curiosity and wonder have risen from the creative minds of our brave and resolute scholars.

Our kindergartners capped the year with a creek walk in Vaughn’s Creek at Warner Park. If you are ever feeling discouraged, just get outside and take a creek walk with a young child who has never before experienced the joy of this practice and your faith will be restored. We squealed in delight as our feet hit the frigid water. We looked under every rock and frolicked in every waterfall. At our final patch ceremony in the Outdoor Classroom, our kindergarten coyotes received their first naturalist badge in recognition of all the adventures they have conquered this year. As we ended our final closing circle, we all lifted our voices up to the “bluebird” sky,
and howled in celebration of our remarkable year together.

In first grade, we ended our year with a fantastic Forest Day at the Lodge in Warner Park. We used Annie’s Organic Fruit Snacks to practice mindful eating, we had free exploration in the forest, and we used plants and other natural objects to create pigments for painting. The students’ creative artwork was a true testament to the enthusiasm they brought to this activity. Our day ended as all Forest Days do, with a closing circle under the canopy of Preston, a stately red oak near the Lodge.

Second grade naturalists enjoyed their final naturalist adventure at the Lodge in Warner Parks. We explored in the woods, relished the way food always tastes better outdoors, and searched for wildflowers in the front field during a scavenger hunt. At our closing circle under the canopy of Preston, students shared about an activity from the day that filled them up. Answers included the discovery of new, tiny wildflowers and climbing the crooked ash near the front field. We all were grateful for our time in the woods.

For third grade naturalists, the year ended with not one, but two huge splashes! First, on Wednesday, May 12, all four classes gathered on the banks of the Caney Fork River for the release of our rainbow trout. In the end, we released 90 trout. Students were elated to hold their very own trout in a cup and then watch it swim away into the beautiful waters of the Caney Fork. It truly was an unforgettable experience for all. Our second splash was a canoe adventure on Lake Woodhaven in Montgomery Bell State Park. After we received some instruction about canoeing and water safety, Jan Seufert and Dawn Nelson from Higher Pursuits Outfitters, led us on an exciting journey around the lake stopping in a cove to look for fish, water fowl, and other wildlife, and
taking a detour to explore a nearby creek. In the creek, we discovered crayfish, darter fish, water striders, salamanders, frogs, and more. Our third graders are more than ready to begin their capstone year in our Young Naturalist Program. 

Our fourth grade naturalists were scheduled to celebrate their time in the Young Naturalist Program with a thrilling kayak adventure on Lake Woodhaven. We were able to make that happen with students in Skylar Moots' and Tempest Covintons' classes, but unfortunately the weather interfered with the trips for Kim Avington's and Ellen Haber's classes. The two classes that got to paddle explored a secret cove in the lake and walked up the creek to wade and look for aquatic critters. All was not lost with the other two classes. We made the most of those days with a creek walk and a picnic lunch near the spillway. During their final closing circle, fourth graders shared the thing they enjoyed most about their final journey and their favorite memory from their entire naturalist experience. Without a doubt, the activity they love the most is Forest Days.

In closing, I have so much gratitude for all the teachers and students in our incredible Lower School community; they made my first year as the Naturalist Teacher exciting, rewarding, magical, and above all, full of wonder.

P.S. For my young naturalists, don't forget to go outside, respect all living things, honor the right of all people to enjoy nature, observe closely with curiosity, and record what you see all summer long. You can begin by checking out this free and exciting event at Ellington Agricultural Center on Saturday, May 29.
    • Kindergarten's final patch ceremony in the Outdoor Classroom.

    • Lizzie Ammerman's first grade class on its final Forest Day.

    • A second grade naturalist hunting for wildflowers.

    • Young trout raised by third graders on campus before being released into the Caney Fork River.

    • Fourth graders listen as they're instructed on proper paddling technique while in a kayak.

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