Our Eco-Cool Partnership with the Pinnacle Association

by Katie Hamlin

Here at the Nature Museum, we are excited for a super cool eco-education program we're running again this fall and school year in conjunction with the Saxtons River-based Windmill Hill Pinnacle Association. Started in 1992, the association's goal is to protect and make accessible land along the Windmill Hill Ridge and other nearby areas for the use of the greater community. This year our environmental educators will spend quality time with the third grade classes from Westminster West and Westminster Center Schools experiencing nature. This combined group will have three outside outings over the course of the year; twice this fall and once in the spring. 

I recently asked our Executive Director Carrie King to share more details about this exciting new offering.

How did your teaming up with the Pinnacle Association, another local eco-minded organization, come up about? What need in the community do you both see?

The Nature Museum has been lucky to have teamed with the Pinnacle Association for many years to provide environmental education and outdoor experiences to kids in the Westminster public schools. The Nature Museum has also held forays for wild mushrooms on Pinnacle Association conserved land. Both of our organizations see the significance of connecting children to the natural world. Children's play has shifted indoors dramatically; away from the unstructured outdoor play that some of us may remember as a child. Against this backdrop, The Nature Museum asserts that contact with the natural world is vital to children’s development and for the future of our planet.

I understand that as part of this program, you’ll be leading a group of students from Westminster West and Central school on several outdoor adventures. Can you tell us more about the types of things that you hope to introduce these students to “in the wild”?

One of the most exciting things about this collaboration is the time we will get to spend with the students on the Pinnacle’s land. Our days with the students start at 9:00 am, meeting at a designated Pinnacle trail head and end at 1:30. Many of the students may not have hiked the trails we will be using so we will see the landscape through fresh eyes. The trails we will be traveling offer up the opportunity for some great adventures and we are thrilled that during our time together this fall we will be teaching the students about outdoor skills, shelter building, animal adaptions and natural habitats.  

During a time when there is much discussion surrounding various learning philosophies, in what way do you think programs like these support learning and student’s interest in the natural world and science?

Children’s access to the outdoors and the natural world has become increasingly limited or non-existent for many. Therefore, the places children spend the majority of their time, including childcares, pre-schools and elementary schools, may be one of society’s best opportunities for reconnecting kids with the natural world and for creating a future generation that values and preserves nature.

Books and lectures help of course, but immersion in nature itself is a child’s best teacher. Nature provides a myriad of places where children can reclaim the magic that is their birthright, and their ability to learn through the joy of exploration and discovery in the natural world.

What are your overall hopes for those kids who take part in this program?

I hope that the children will develop or deepen their personal sense of respect and caring for the natural sciences. By exercising these environmental values in their everyday lives and consciousness, they can continue upon a path to being future stewards of the Earth. Raising the next generation to be respectful and protective of the Earth's diversity and appreciative of the basic wonder of nature is crucial I think for continuing the gains of environmental science and conservation advocates. 

Are there any plans to expand the program to other schools? How can other schools or homeschool groups learn more?

For over 25 years, The Nature Museum has supported the natural science needs of educators in the Southern Connecticut River Valley as a part of our community outreach programs. We host many schools year round for field trips and immersions in the natural world. Please email our Director of Education Kimberly Galandak-O'Connor (kimberly@nature-museum.org) or call us at (802) 843-2111 to schedule a program or field trip or to find out more about what The Nature Museum offers to students, teachers, and home schools.