Fourth Graders Connect with Nature
A Day Full of Fun and Learning for Coupeville Students
Sarah Boin loves nature. When she learned about an opportunity to take her elementary school students to a nearby nature preserve for a field trip, she was thrilled.
“I truly believe that these kids don’t get outside enough and don’t even know what’s in their own backyard,” Boin said.
Boin seized the opportunity. She and two other teachers from Coupeville Elementary School brought 59 fourth graders to Admiralty Inlet Preserve on May 29 to take part in a full-day, outdoor learning experience hosted by the Whidbey Camano Land Trust, a land conservation organization committed to conserving great places on Whidbey and Camano islands.
The students moved about the preserve in small groups to learn about forest and prairie ecosystems and local history. They were taught how to identify birds by their songs, planted a native nodding onion, and participated in a service project in which they trimmed tall grass and weeds away from young firs creating a “ring of life” to help them grow. In all, there were six learning stations.
“It is powerful for them to come do this,” Boin said.
Taylor Schmuki was eager to introduce an event like this for children ever since she joined the Land Trust staff as a stewardship technician a year ago.
Schmuki saw a school field trip on a Land Trust preserve as an exciting way to connect children to nature, build stronger relationships with the community, and to instill an appreciation for wild, open spaces and all the wonderful things they possess. That’s why she wanted to include a service project.
“I think it’s really important for kids to understand that these natural areas just don’t magically appear,” Schmuki said. “It takes time, energy, work and the generous support of the community. Giving kids a taste of nature is really good for them. Hopefully they’ll cherish it more and become champions of protecting and caring for nature.”
Permanently protected by the Land Trust in 2005 and expanded in 2013 and 2017, Admiralty Inlet Preserve is an amazingly diverse property. At 86 acres, the preserve includes an gnarly old-growth forest, more than a mile of high bluff along Admiralty Inlet, 2.5 miles of walking trails, and two rare prairie remnants. The prairies are home to a population of golden paintbrush, two of only 12 sites in the world where this endangered prairie plant occurs naturally.
The fourth graders had been studying the First Nations and were eager to see prairie plants that were valuable in so many ways to indigenous peoples. As it turned out, the students, accompanied by teachers Jackie Gelston, Jon Gabelein, and Boin, and their chaperones, saw and learned a whole lot more.
“Did you hear that? That’s a brown creeper,” Jay Adams said to a small group of students as they walked quietly down a path looking and listening for birds.
Adams, a Land Trust board member and avid birder, was in charge of the “wildlife” station. He was one of eight volunteers who helped make the field trip possible, joining Stephanie Garlichs, Pam Stein, Bob and Sue Payton, Gretchen Luxenberg, Vickie Demetre, and Lorna Aites. Four Land Trust staff members also led stations.
Visitors to Admiralty Inlet Preserve often see deer and a wide variety of birds, including bald eagles. Many of the fourth graders witnessed a nature show they’ll likely never forget.
Just as the lunch break was beginning, two juvenile bald eagles were seen fighting over the prairie. Suddenly, their talons interlocked and they started spinning out of control before crashing into a nearby stand of Douglas firs.
“These two birds had no idea they were flying into the trees,” said Kyle Ostermick-Durkee, Land Trust stewardship specialist. “They just crash landed. One of them literally broke a branch on the way down and hit the ground and didn’t move after that. No noise. We were all just stood there looking at each other.”
After an unsettling pause, Ostermick-Durkee rushed over to get a closer look before the eagle bolted from the brush like a rocket over his head.
“We all thought he was dead, but he came swooping up,” said Natalie, one of the students on the trip.
“I was surprised how close they got to us,” added Lindy, another student.
The day was all about learning, fun, and appreciation for nature.
The fourth graders learned that golden paintbrush has a parasitic quality, which means they depend on other prairie plants to survive. They discovered that Douglas fir trees next to high bluffs sometimes grow thick, sideways branches and are shorter because their tops can’t withstand the powerful winds off Puget Sound. They also learned that one of the Land Trust’s restoration goals is to bring back the federally endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly that only lives on native prairies.
All that outdoor education, exercise and fresh air tuckered out the kids.
“They were exhausted,” Boin said. “Some of them fell asleep on the bus ride home. And, it’s only a 10-minute bus ride!”
To show their appreciation, the students each made thank you notes complete with hand drawn artwork and heartfelt messages.
“I love working with kids,” said Schmuki, beaming at the cards.
The notes were filled with gratitude and tales about spit bugs, the Harry Potter tree, and a mouse story that helped them remember how to identify Douglas fir cones.
“I’m going to use this knowledge that you taught me to teach my sister more about nature,” Gracie wrote.
“The thing I liked most was … EVERYTHING!” wrote Sofia. “I liked the service project, hiking trails, and learning about trees. Also, I liked learning about history and prairies. But, my favorite part was learning that people are learning about and helping protect the earth. Thanks again for the amazing field trip!”