For schools, springtime is a prime time for outdoor field trips.
With a 1,000-acre conservation area in Blue Springs, there are ripe educational opportunities close by for Kansas City area schools.
Burr Oak Woods Conservation Area in Blue Springs, which includes a nature center that was the state's first when built in 1982 and was renovated just three years ago, offers interpretive programs year-round. Spring certainly is a busy time for the naturalists who work there.
Earlier this week, Ginger Miller, who normally works at the Department of Conservation's Gorman Discovery Center near the Plaza in Kansas City, was helping guide fifth graders from Hawthorn Hill Elementary in Lee's Summit through the outdoor portion of “Nature Unleashed,” part of the Discover Nature series, a statewide conservation science education program. There are different parts of the program for various age groups.
“These programs are open for registration in January and fill up fast,” Miller said of the spring field trips. “All the lessons are to get kids outside and enjoying nature.”
Many parents and guardians also took part with the students in their trek around the Discovery Pond a short distance from the nature center, having already arrived by the time the buses of students showed up.
“Only special persons like yourselves get to fish here,” she told the students. “We are going to the home of the wildlife, so we want to be respectful to them.”
They divided into three groups to rotate among three ecosystem areas – the forest or woods, the pond and the prairie – with notepads at the ready after each station. At the pond, they dipped nets and cast baited lines into the water – with some exciting success.
In the prairie, the big source of wonder was the beaver skull that's been left there after discovery. One student in the prairie area quipped that he wanted to find and catch a deer, leading his teacher to humorously reply, “I would love to see you try that!”
Before the gravel-path hike into the woods, naturalist Christopher Cain urged students to be alert to fully appreciate nature.
“I want you to keep your eyes and your ears open, because you're more likely to hear something,” he said, before leading the way into the woods to discuss water run-off, a popular food plant for native animals and different nests.
Hawthorn Hill teachers noted that the school as an example of all three ecosystems on campus where students can learn, but certainly nothing to the scale of Burr Oak Woods.
“So we practice with the tools,” teacher Kim Mooney said. “This is a neat field trip.”
Burr Oak Woods has interpretive programs at the nature center and offers some programs at schools during the wintertime, and self-guided tours are always available at the nature center.
In addition, not far from Burr Oak is George Owens Nature Park, which is open year-round and also has a nature center and hiking trails.
Cain has worked with various programs at Burr Oak and also has spent time at Gorman Discovery Center and the Kansas City Zoo, said he most enjoys seeing that moment of realization on a child's face when they learn something new from nature, particularly those students who come from an urban background like himself and haven't had much exposure to nature.
Plus, he said, it simply helps get them away from too many video games.
“Usually the most (enjoyable part) is seeing that light bulb go off,” Cain said, “when they see their first snake or it's the first fish they caught. Or it can be something as simple as talking water run-off, when we were at the bridge, and the water's running underneath. 'Where did it come from? It came from the pond up there.”
“That light bulb moment, that's what you do it for. You never know, it could lead to a kid working even in conservation.”