We Can Help People Become Comfortable in Nature
Finding the Comfort Zone
by Kate Mowbray
I love to visit parks and other natural areas. It helps me to relax and enjoy the quiet peacefulness I find outdoors. I have a friend that is quite the opposite. Her idea of camping is a sleeping bag on the floor inside an air-conditioned or heated building. When working with the public, it is important to remember everyone is different, unique. Even when sharing an experience, people may learn differently and feel things in unique ways. It is our duty to identify who our visitors and field-trip attendees are, why they are here and what we can do to make their experience enjoyable.
For some, a visit to a natural setting may be a wonderful experience while others may feel out of their comfort zone. Growing up in a large wooded area around my home, I enjoyed a Sunday stroll with my family in the woods. We’d look for the “raccoon motel,” a hole in a dead tree, or the “#4” tree which, as you can guess, was shaped like a 4. These experiences helped me develop a familiarity and love for the outdoors and eventually lead to my career as a naturalist. I work with many children who live in an urban environment, and their only experience with nature is through TV. Before going on a trail hike, I often hear, “Are there anacondas here?” and “What if we get lost?” These children did not grow up in a place that allows them to play in the woods behind their home or have families that spend their afternoons hiking in a park. They are not comfortable, and they worry about their safety. It is important for people in our roles to help them become comfortable in their surroundings.
Before heading out on the trail, I make them aware of any hazards they may come across (poison ivy, briars, holes in the ground) and raise excitement about things they may perceive as dangerous (snakes, insects). By the end of the hike, most participants are excited about the birds and other cool things we found and can’t wait to share their sightings with their teachers.
In some forest, refuge, and park settings, the staff is required to wear a formal uniform. To some of us, a uniform represents respect and someone to go to if there is a problem. For others, they see the uniform as potential for harassment. Whether through their own experiences or stories of relatives or friends, they may have encountered people who wear uniforms in unpleasant ways. If you work in a situation that requires wearing a formal uniform, you may have to work extra hard to bring those people into your programs and to have them trust you.
Other groups may not visit our natural areas or attend our programs because of cultural differences. They may see going to the park as something their culture doesn’t do. Some may feel uncomfortable with a program setting. They may be used to learning in a certain manner, maybe more lecture style than an informal setting usually offers. Sometimes language barriers can make people feel left out of the group. It is important for us to talk to our visitors while they are visiting our natural areas or strike up a conversation before a program to get a sense of their comfort level. When in small groups, try to be personable by learning names and using them throughout the program. Use visuals or audio aids to learn about the topic. Whether you had someone that speaks another language or is visually impaired, you’ve included them in the experience by involving their senses. A friendly face and an enthusiastic attitude can often help break down barriers visitors may have built.
It is hard to identify only one reason why some people don’t visit parks or natural areas. We are all individuals who have unique personalities and learning styles. We have all had unique experiences that have shaped who we are. As educators, it is important to appreciate those differences and help our visitors to overcome barriers they may have developed about our natural world. In the upcoming issues of BEN, we will surely look at further ways to help introduce diverse of audiences to the world of birds.
Lewis, William J. Interpreting for Park Visitors. Publishing Center for Cultural Resources.1981. 122-135 pages.
Migratory Birds of the West Indies Coloring Book Now Available!
Dr. Lisa G. Sorenson
President, Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds
The Migratory Birds of the West Indies Colouring Book has been published just in time for the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds’ (SCSCB) Carribbean celebration of International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) in October! The book contains gorgeous drawings (by Bahamian artist, John Thompson) of 41 migratory birds that winter in or migrate through the Caribbean (seabirds, waterbirds, shorebirds, raptors, songbirds, etc). The birds are shown in their wintering habitat; each page includes natural history information about the bird and a range map.
Color images of all the birds are on the inside covers so that children can see how to color them. A 3-page introduction provides information and cool facts about migration, “Parts of a Bird” diagram, and suggested activities for children to help birds and learn more about them.
Copies of the coloring book are available for free to SCSCB partners in the region doing any kind of bird and environmental outreach and education. The Migratory Birds of the West Indies Colouring Book will be a fun and valuable resource for IMBD and other outreach activities with children to raise awareness about the incredible journeys that migratory birds take and the importance of providing habitat for them, and to help introduce them to the joy and fun of watching birds.
To order online click here.
The Big Sit! – Submit Your Results
The 16th annual Big Sit! was recently held on Sunday, October 10, 2010.
The Big Sit! is like a Big Day or a bird-a-thon where you try to see as many bird species within 24 hours.
It’s a great way for families, visitors, and casual participants to learn about birds and bird conservation. It’s ideal for using “down time” for discussion, a teaching opportunity: how to use binoculars, how to go through a field guide, parts of a bird.
Participants create a real or imaginary circle 17 feet in diameter. And, finally, stay inside the circle for up to 24 hours, counting all the bird species they see or hear.
Submit your results at http://www.birdwatchersdigest.com/site/bigsit/sithome.php.
Results can be viewed online at http://www.birdwatchersdigest.com/bwdsite/connect/bigsit/2010/index.php.
Through these links you can find statistics on species counts entered by Big Sit! circles in 2010; lists of all circles who participated in the Big Sit!, along with their checklists; team reports submitted by the captains of Big Sit! circles around the world; photos and more.
Bird Education & the National Education Act
The National Environmental Education Act (NEEA) was introduced for reauthorization in both houses of Congress on September 23, 2010. If passed, this would help ensure that Americans, from preschoolers to seniors, receive the educational foundation needed to better understand complex environmental subjects.
NEEA could provide nearly $500 million in public grant and training funding through U.S. EPA over the next ten years. It would also support programming and grants at the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF).
Signed into law by the 101st Congress in 1990, the NEEA has led to measurable improvement in the quality of environmental education around the country. This reauthorization builds on a 20-year investment started by the NEEA that laid the foundation for building environmental literacy across the country through elementary, secondary and graduate school initiatives, employee sustainability education at businesses, a greater emphasis on greener jobs and products, and much more.
Ultimately through supplied funding, NEEA could pose great opportunities for birds educators. For more information including how to urge your congressional representative to support the passage of the National Environmental Education Act, visit the National Wildlife Federation by clicking here.