By Miriam Westervelt, PhD
On a bright and chilly day in March, teachers from the Peterson Young Naturalist Program were at Rolling Ridge Elementary School to teach nature observation skills to Loudoun County teachers. These workshops are offered twice a year to K-12 teachers seeking professional development in outdoor education. Following introductions by co-facilitators Michael Myers (Loudoun Wildlife Executive Director) and Miriam Westervelt (Peterson Program founder), six veteran Peterson teachers demonstrated successful ways to use the outdoors to meet objectives in math, science, visual arts and language arts.
Natasha Gulley and Kelly Anderson taught “Finding Patterns in Nature” (K-12) using the Fibonacci math sequence to nurture nature observation skills. Marlena Beach taught “Color My Seasons” (K-5) using natural objects to learn the color spectrum. “The Seasonal Changes Memory Game,” (preK-12), taught by MaryKirk Cunningham, engages students in the scientific method while meeting the Loudoun County Public Schools 5Cs Focal Areas for Instruction (contributor, collaborator, critical thinker, communicator, creator). Norina Treanor’s “Safety Through the Seasons” (K-12) taught teachers how to follow Loudoun County Public Schools’ safety guidelines outdoors regardless of weather conditions and terrain. This spring, over a thousand students will benefit from the skills that the new Peterson teachers learned in this March workshop.
Students who submit nature journals using these lessons can win Peterson Young Naturalist Awards, which are given at the Loudoun Wildlife Annual Meeting in June. These awards are designed to reward students whose nature journals demonstrate the naturalistic intelligence—one of Howard Gardner’s eight types of multiple intelligences. It is found in children who relate easily to the environment and enjoy identifying and classifying things they find in nature. The program is named in memory of Roger Tory Peterson (1908-1996) the world-renowned naturalist and author of the Peterson Field Guide to the Birds. Peterson often credited his direction in life to a teacher who took her students outside regularly and nurtured his interest in birds after seeing his drawing of a blue jay.