Conservation program gets students hands-on in nature

 

  • 28 Sep 2014    Times Colonist    PEDRO ARRAIS parrais@timescolonist.com

In the school system, educators generally teach children the skills to succeed in life. A program offered to schools by the Habitat Acquisition Trust seeks to augment their learning by helping them understand and care for the natural world around them.

BRUCE STOTESBURY, TIMES COLONIST     The Habitat Acquisition Trust has built 16 native school gardens to educate children on their role in the ecosystem. Oaklands Elementary School student Asha Ralph, 8, and her sister, Oaklands grad Aurora Ralph, 11, work in the garden.

Green Spots is a community conservation program that creates outdoor nature classrooms so children from kindergarten to Grade 7 have an opportunity to get a hands-on education on nature.

The program, funded by the Victoria Foundation, has been implemented in 16 schools since 2006, with three more on track to be created this school term.

“While Victoria has good access to the outdoors, many children still don’t get out compared to years past,” said Adam Taylor, executive director of the organization. “There is a real benefit in kids spending more time outside. This program gives schools the tools to give children an education on nature on school grounds.”

Each participating school is assessed to see what type of remediation is appropriate for the site. The chosen site might be the area under an oak tree for a Garry oak meadow, an area where shade-loving ferns once thrived, wetlands for insects and waterfowl or a field where bulbs grew that would have been harvested for food by local First Nations.

“Each school ground is different,” Taylor said. “We work with the school and the community.”

But most importantly, they work with children.

“A component of the program is the active participation of the students. They are the ones who plant the plants or pull out invasive species. They are the ones who have to take ownership of the site and pass on their knowledge to other students coming after them.”

Taylor said experts, such as biologists and naturalists, connect with teachers to provide training and workshops to get the best use of their new outdoor nature classroom.

Sometimes, parents and neighbours who initially came to help decide to create a natural habitat on their property as well.

The Good Neighbours project is credited for assisting more than 550 habitat stewards create natural ecosystems on private property. The trust provides expertise and advice on how people can protect woodland and waterways while still having a lawn for kids to play or a food garden for the family.

The Habitat Acquisition Trust is a local, non-profit land trust that protects ecosystems and habitats through land acquisition, conservation covenants, education and stewardship. Since 1996, the organization has conserved more than 1,800 hectares of nature in the Capital Regional District for future generations to enjoy.

For more information, go to hat.bc.ca.

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