GREENVILLE — In these days of ceaseless connectedness to technology and gadgetry, a clear disconnect has developed between people and the natural world. A Darke County Parks program aimed at students in third through sixth grade is working on reconnecting young adolescents with their roots in nature and the past.
Children by nature love nature. They splash in puddles, dig in the dirt, examine flora and fauna and ask questions about the world around them. But it doesn’t take long before video games hold more fascination for children than catching fireflies and wondering why they light up that way.
The Darke County Parks Junior Naturalists program is intended to help reignite that passion for nature, said Darke County Parks Naturalist Hannah Linebaugh during the most recent Junior Naturalist program.
Saturday’s Junior Naturalists program was a special sort of treat for the kids. It was about learning how to cook in an old-fashioned Dutch oven. How does this lesson about old-time cooking connect to nature? Linebaugh, the parks department’s newest naturalist, draws from her own experience.
Linebaugh, a self-proclaimed “typical poor 23-year-old,” said she and her fiancé take their vacations in the woods and wilds, bringing along the cast iron cooking implements and feeding themselves over the wood coals as they immerse themselves in nature for a week.
Twelve children participated in Saturday’s program, cooking up stew meat, potatoes and onions, biscuits, and bread pudding on the hearth of the fireplace in Shawnee Prairie Nature Preserve’s log cabin.
The kids peeled the apples, cut up the bread, cut the potatoes and onions, mixed and stirred. They also scooped hot coals on to the hearth and on top of the Dutch ovens. They lifted the heavy lids and pots, rotating and replenishing the coals to keep the heat even.
They learned how to use the knives safely and handle the hot coals without getting burned. There were no cuts or burns at the end of the day – just some good life skills learned and full bellies as they reaped the rewards of their hard work by digging into a hearty midday meal. And at the end of it all, their hands flew into the air as they volunteered to go out into the cold to clean out the pots.
While this lesson taught the kids how to eat out in nature, other Junior Naturalist programs teach them how to enjoy nature when they get there. From pond life to autumn leaves, there are endless things to explore.
“We want these programs to encourage this generation to be good stewards of nature,” Linebaugh said.
Junior Naturalist programs are held every fourth Saturday. There is a $3 fee for materials, and pre-registration is required.
Upcoming programs will include the Christmas Bird Count in December, the Song Dogs program about coyotes in January and the Pepé LePew program about skunks in February.
To register for an upcoming Junior Naturalists program, call the Nature Center at Shawnee Prairie Nature Preserve at 937-548-0165 or email [email protected]