Insects are everywhere. It’s easy to forget that simply dragging a net across a field of grass can reveal a world populated by a multitude of peculiar creatures. But after spending two hours identifying dozens of classes of insects with the help of Kenyon students, many middle schoolers saw their environment in a different light.
This change in perspective is what BFEC Manager Noelle Jordan hopes to achieve. She designs and organizes educational field trips at the Center that engage local students with Ohio flora and fauna.
“We want to connect people with nature, provide place-based education,” she said, “but we definitely want things to be hands-on, experiential, with total immersion.”
For the past 22 years, the BFEC has endeavored to bridge the widening gap between young children and nature. By conducting field trips that cover Ohio science standards, the center seeks to offer a space for children to apply what they learn in the classroom to a natural environment they may be unaccustomed to seeing.
The 1,000 or so children attending these trips every year are not the only focus of this program. “Our mission statement covers two audiences,” Jordan said. “One audience is the community at large. The other audience is Kenyon students.”
Kenyon volunteers serve as “naturalist” guides in these field trips, teaching a range of topics from the elements of a healthy ecosystem to the different kinds of life cycles. For the past week, Jordan has been training these volunteers to conduct field trips on specific topics.
One in particular, titled “Incredible Insects,” familiarizes volunteers with Knox County’s most common forms of insect life, preparing them to use nets and microscopes to lead children in the discovery and examination of these critters. In preparation for one section of the program, the volunteers acted as the middle school students in a mock tour, capturing insects from various ponds in the center and trying to identify them. At the end of the training, the volunteers will be able to easily explain the function of the tympanum (which allows insects to hear) and point out the differences between juvenile mayflies and damselflies by their swimming patterns.
“Growing up, I wasn’t ever exposed to or taught about the outdoors,” Alex Levy ’20, who is serving as a volunteer for his second year, said. “I’m here to increase my environmental awareness and to bring that to local children. To show them what they don’t know already feels very special.”
Although the volunteers serve as instructors, they frequently work alongside the children rather than strictly directing them. “I’ve been working on training the Kenyon student volunteers as facilitators rather than lecturers or teachers,” Jordan said.
The field trips begin this week and will continue throughout the year. “It’s a brilliant way to engage the community,” Jordan said. “It’s a great way to connect kids to nature.