A year of adventure

With final Forest Days and fourth grade's capstone, kayaking adventure in the books, Lower School Naturalist Teacher Lauren Hagan takes a look back at year of soul-awakening time spent outdoors and in wonder. Continue reading for a glimpse at all the Young Naturalist Program entailed this academic year.
By Lauren Hagen, Lower School Naturalist Teacher

“I feel alive,” exclaimed one kindergarten naturalist shortly after our year's-end creek walk began. As we walked down the stunning Vaughn's Creek in Edwin Warner Park, hearing those three simple words filled me with joy and gratitude, and it occurred to me that the student's exclamation summed up the essence of the Young Naturalist Program. Whether canoeing on Lake Woodhaven, dissecting an owl pellet in the classroom, or running through fields on a Forest Day, over and over again nature invites us to be more present, more curious, more exuberant — essentially, more alive. 

The 2021-2022 academic year has been an interesting one for the Young Naturalist Program. Severe weather, COVID-19, and other extenuating circumstances led us to adopt the phrase "Semper Gumby" as a philosophy. The phrase, though seemingly silly, reminds us to embrace the flexibility that is needed when navigating outdoor activities and everyday life. Despite the challenges faced, it has been another successful year for our naturalists. 

We have traveled to Warner Parks, Radnor Lake, Caney Fork River, Lake Woodhaven, Couchville Lake, Duck River, Owl’s Hill, the wetlands at the River Campus, and the outdoor classroom at 2000 Edgehill. We’ve hiked, climbed, canoed, kayaked, dissected, balanced, studied, explored, floated, laughed, jumped, spun, fallen, and picked ourselves back up again. Every journey we take begins with a brief gratitude practice. This practice is in part because I’m grateful to get to do what I love every day but also due to the immense amount of wonder, joy, and brilliance our naturalists bring to every adventure. This program is extraordinary because our incredible and brave young naturalists make it so. 

This year, I was made aware of a beautiful analogy made by Young Naturalist Program Founder & Former Teacher Cynthia Lee: When the students were experiencing nervousness about trying something new during a journey, she used to say, “those butterflies you feel inside are your soul waking up.” Circling back to the wise words of our kindergarten creek walker, as our souls awakened this year, we did feel very much alive.

And, USN's incredible transportation team deserves a huge shout out. Bus drivers greeted every student with a smile and navigated the many obstacles of driving on Nashville's roads with ease. They are ever kind and helpful when we have schedule changes. The Young Naturalist Program would not be possible without them, and we are truly grateful. Amy Rivera, Eric Smith, Angie Moore, Begashaw Asfaw, and Mike Turnage, our Tiger hats are tipped off to you.
    • Second grade peers into the water hoping to spot fish on a Forest Day adventure.

    • Kindergarten naturalists celebrate a bluebird sky as they head into the woods for a journey at USN's wetlands.

    • Fourth graders show off the bandanas they tie-dyed on a Forest Day.

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