Monday, November 28, 2011

Explorer Day in the River Valley

Many of us appreciate how lucky we are to live in a region with an incredibly vast river valley park system, but do we fully realize how important this parks system is for the well being of our children? I had the pleasure of joining the Young Naturalist Club of Edmonton (YNC)at this month's Explorer Day. YNC Project Coordinator Kelsie Sharun and I had the opportunity to discuss the club, and the alarming trend of children spending less time outdoors.

"Research indicates there is a disproportionate amount of time being spent by young people indoors in front of a digital screen, rather than outdoors in natural spaces," Sharun says. "Many families are at risk of developing social, physical and psychological issues that accompany a disconnection with nature. Pioneers of the 'Children and Nature' movement argue that an upbringing without experience in the natural world has a marked effect on physical and mental health, as well as learning capacities."

With this in mind, I had a new appreciation for the YNC Project and the families that take part in it. The YNC is a regional project that engages children and their families in nature education, and maybe most importantly, nature appreciation. Members of YNC explore and discover the natural world through Explorer Days where they learn about plants, birds, bugs, fish, mammals, and the living systems that surround them.

I had a blast at the November 12 event, "Stalking and Tracking Creatures in the Edmonton River Valley" sponsored by the Edmonton Community Foundation. The first half of the day was spent inside with John Janzen Nature Centre interpreter Blair leading the group in making their own animal track molds. The kids then sat in a circle where artifacts like beaver pelts and enclosed insects were passed around.

My favourite moment had to have been when Blair picked up a moose leg from her box of goodies. The room filled with a collective "ooooh!" Watching the kids stroke and examine each artifact was an incredibly honest moment of wonderment.

We also had the pleasure of meeting Sonic the Tiger Salamander. I couldn't believe the size of him! I didn't know such large salamanders were native to our region.

The weather could not have been more cooperative either. We had our year's first snowfall and the families were just itching to frolic in the fresh powder. Everyone bundled up with their magnifying glasses and headed into the river valley to see what kinds of tracks they could find. There were squeals from every direction as the children pointed out dog, bird, mouse, and even hare tracks. The day ended with Kelsie handing out the Explorer Day certificates and badges to which the little Explorers eagerly accepted.

If you would like to be involved in Explorer Days, contact the Nature Alberta office and pick up a family membership for only $15 a year. The next Explorer Day is December 11 where the explorers will learn the basics of "birding" in Emily Murphy Park. If you have any questions, contact or call 780-427-8124.

C. McPhee