A Community Newspaper for the way we live

Paula Olson, The Northwest Connection

I am issuing an assignment for you and your kids, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, or play date friends. This mission, if you choose to accept it, will lead you to information online that is critical to the deployment of forthcoming spy tasks. You and your agents will follow directives with time outdoors regardless of circumstances beyond your control (i.e., weather). You may complete your mission in your own backyard or a nearby park, or you may challenge yourself by pursuing observations in destinations further out: go on a wildlife observation hike.

Step one: background research. Go to National Wildlife Federation’s website then click on your state that appears on the US map. Narrow it down to county or zip code. You will be able to see how many different species of wildlife other people in your area have reported. This may be motivation for your young assistant to put her own observations on the website.

Step two: join the agent legion. Register your name on the site and submit. There are categories with photos that help novice wildlife watchers know what to look for. Clicking on the photo will provide young researchers with descriptions, habitat information, and fun facts about the wildlife they might observe.

Step three: time to spy. Go outside and observe!

Step four: log and analyze data. Return to the computer and log your observations on the NWF wildlife watch site. You can write specific notes about what you noticed or simply log the names flora or fauna that you saw.

Through greenhour.org (I have mentioned this one several times before), an online “go-outside-and-discover” resource launched by NWF, you can find other activities that take you outside and into nature with kids. You will find links to PDF’s of observation checklists that elementary school students as well as the non-reading age group can use with a little help from an adult. The site also has tips on how to identify birds and leaves.

I recently had the privilege of teaching a kindergarten class about bird nests and habitat, and I also showed them some species of birds they might notice in parks near where they live. They were fascinated to see pictures of the variety of nests that exist for a variety of birds – not everything looks like a bowl-shaped twig and grass nest of the American robin. Some look like teacups, some are lined with cat hair, some resemble cushiony moss mattresses, and others, like the Weaver bird’s nest in Africa, look like upside down socks constructed with intricately woven plant material. My presentation on nests and neighborhood birds proved to me that kids are genuinely intrigued by nature – they gave me their undivided attention for forty minutes right before lunch and recess. Hopefully their desire to simply observe what happens around them, in nature, and in life in general, has been piqued.

Exposing younger generations to the natural world is essential in helping them make wise decisions about how to develop the land and world in which we live. We can inform our children that the manner in which we treat plants, forests, animals, and marine life will eventually affect human life. We, as people and joint inhabitants of the earth, cannot simply grab what we want now without considering future consequences. Going on a “mission” to watch wildlife is one way to open the door to responsible management.

Once you complete your mission as wildlife agents, choose a place on the NWF map for your next “spy” task. This is one mission that is not secret so share the site and your wildlife observations with friends. Encourage them to join your band of wildlife watchers and enjoy how much you will learn in the process.

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