By Paul Belz
A recent Facebook poster said it would be a great day when kids got as excited by scientists as they do by sports figures, musicians, and other celebrities. One person commented, “It will never happen.” Environmental and science educators disagree. Kids’ responses to the recent Bio-blitz at Lake Merritt are a real reason for hope.
One group of elementary school children and their parents lay on their stomachs on a dock to catch some of the Lake’s invertebrates in small nets. They were enthralled by their amphipods, shrimp, and mussels, including one with a small anemone attached to its fist sized shell. Others guided a small submarine that wandered below the Lake’s surface, and sent images to a laptop’s screen. Another group was enchanted by the barnacle larvae and other plankton they watched through microscopes.
Children are scientists. They love to turn over rocks, search the mud on lake and streambed shores, and discover birds’ springtime songs. Their inherent curiosity and sense of wonder about their world stimulates them to explore local environments, and to connect with wildlife and ecosystems around them. Many environmental researchers and activists trace their enthusiasm for nature to close contact with nature during their childhoods. Hands-on activities, such as opportunities to catch invertebrates with nets, observe them, and help release them resonate deeply with children and encourage them to learn more about their world.
Young explorers in the botanical garden watched openmouthed as hummingbirds hovered and darted around them. They helped each other find monarch butterflies. Terry Smith, a science teacher at Piedmont’s Havenscourt School had a table representing the Pollinator Posse. This group encourages residents to install native plant gardens that will provide monarchs and other migrating insects with natural pathways. Terry collects monarch eggs in the garden, and shares them with her students. The young entomologists’ watch caterpillars hatch and eat milkweed until they form chrysalises and emerge as adults. Terry shared butterflies that she would soon release, knowing that her students’ experiences would strengthen their love these creatures.
An excited photographer called Bioblitzers at the garden’s exit and shared two flatworms he’ d found mating under a rock. He took their photo, pointed out their unique hammer shaped heads, and commented that he’d seen related species in the tropics but not in Oakland. He took many photos of the little animals before he released them.. Maybe his excitement came from a childhood visit to an event like the Bioblitz!