Second-Grade Nature Walk
Cora Johnston, Site Director for Virginia Coast Reserve LTER (VCR LTER) in Oyster, reached out to VES Land Trust last fall with an idea to study whether outdoor experiences make children better observers. “We were excited for the opportunity to measure some impacts of our second grade nature walks,” said Executive Director, Hali Plourde-Rogers.
The field trips took place last November. VES Land Trust staff and volunteers led close to 160 students from Accawmacke and Occohannock Elementary schools on a walk at Brownsville Preserve. The students walked through high marsh, upland forest, low marsh, early successional habitat, and past man-made ponds. They completed a scavenger hunt to help them identify differences between the habitats and what animals and plants might be found in each.
Since science and art are both based in observation, the study used a before and after drawing activity to measure outcomes. Students drew using the same template before and after the nature walk. The report, recently completed by VCR LTER, looked at art from 98 students and found two outcomes:
The changes in number and use of color reflected autumn conditions of marsh and forest.
Fantasy elements declined. Trees and other nature based elements became more prevalent.
The pilot study concludes, “…their art became more realistic and reflected the seasonal conditions of the wetlands and forest they visited. The experience clearly drew their attention to details they hadn’t otherwise associated with a wetland landscape – a sign of heightened observation.” In addition, the after drawings provide an insight into what elements are most interesting to the student observer.
On the most recent spring field trip, students enjoyed observing fiddler crabs in the marsh and seeing milkweed up close. The milkweed connected back to their classroom lesson on Monarch butterflies and wildlife sightings continue to be cause for celebration at all ages.