By Mandy Martin
Darke County Parks
It’s that time of year when the piercing yell of the word, “BUS,” resonates through the nature center. For the education staff, it means game on! Another group of wide-eyed, cheery little explorers are visiting for a field trip. The excitement in the air is palpable. As they meander off the bus and make their way into the nature center the ooohs and aaahs of wonder echo throughout. The responsibility we have to make an impact on these young minds is not a position we take lightly. As environmental and historical educators, it is our job to foster the sense of wonder all little children have about the natural world and their immediate community. One thing I’ve learned over my nearly 25 years in parks and recreation is that children do not need to be taught to admire, enjoy, and even love nature. It is an inherent sense bestowed upon us by our Creator. For me, it is a privilege to take a group of eager children out on the trails. I have to laugh when I think of the little feet following behind me. Most of them can’t get close enough and end up stepping on my heels which leads to a pile-up when I stop.
Our field trips are comprised of topics that meet the state science and history standards. The most popular topic that teachers choose is the Resources Naturally for first grade. The kids love to go hiking in the park looking for gifts from nature! Beautifully decorated gift boxes are placed in the park prior to the student’s arrival. Each box contains a ‘gift’ from nature such as maple syrup, granite, doll furniture, medicine, and more. It is the perfect opportunity to teach the kids about renewable and non-renewable resources.
We offer a wide range of topics for kindergarten through sixth grade that range from life cycles to pioneer living. We also have naturalist in the classroom programs that include the Ohio Wildlife History Timeline, Adopt a Raptor, Symbolic Monarch Migration and so much more.
Several years ago, we changed the process to reserve a program. It used to be done through a phone call and pen to paper. We tried to make the process more streamlined and easier for busy teachers. Now, all school program requests are done online through our website on RecDesk. In early August, I send out an email to all county teachers with the program descriptions and RecDesk link. Teachers then create an account and request the exact dates and times they want based on what we have open in the online calendar. Once a request is received, I then am able to check our availability.
Each year, since I began at DCP in 2000, we come very close to filling up our school program calendar; then came 2020. We had to pivot and re-think everything we were used to doing since the late 90’s. Our school programs were all of a sudden thrust into 100% online learning. We provided YouTube video links for teachers and then dropped off boxes of supplies to the schools. As life slowly went back to normal, so did our programs. For the first time ever, I am proud to say that by September 30th we completely booked our school program calendar thru May 2024! Our Darke County teachers are fully engaged and taking advantage of the learning opportunities we offer. We measure our success by the number of residents who utilize the services we offer. Now that our school calendar is full, I am thrilled to know we have achieved a job well done.
All of Darke County Parks school programs are free of charge for all in-county schools and the Friends of the Parks offer a grant for bus transportation. If you would like more information about our school programs give me a call at 937-548-0165 or email [email protected]. I’d love to get your class booked for 2024-2025!