What do YOU know about Experiential Education?
How do we teach values, how do we teach to appreciate the environment, how do we teach to protect it? How do we teach impermanence of nature and how do we teach others to care for it? How do we educate a citizen, a citizen who will thrive for his country? It all starts with experiences and exposure. For St. Louisians it all starts in Forest Park, which consists of 120 acres of old growth forest, reconstructed savanna and prairie habitat in the heart of downtown St Louis. That’s where it all begins.
If you grew up in St. Louis, try to recall your most memorable experience in Forest Park, or any other place outdoors? Do you still remember where exactly it was? What did you feel? What emotions do you go through when you go back in time?
Well, let me share with you a very personal story of my experiences this summer. And you will decide how it might relate to you and your life. If I start with naming the following: Forest Park, Voyagers, the Bear, Specialists …I am not sure if that all will make sense you. So, let’s start from the beginning. About four years ago, I met Jim Wilson, Ph.D. an E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor in Experiential & Family Education with the Division of Teaching & Learning at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL). Jim is the primary UM – Saint Louis contact for a dedicated group of educators who work for Forest Park Forever, Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri Botanical Garden , Missouri Historical Society, Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis Science Center, Saint Louis Zoo, and the St. Louis Department of Parks, Recreation and Forestry. They helped me open my eyes and my mind to the experiences I never been exposed to. Serving as an educational counselor and then assisting with a number of other educational programs I had an opportunity to see the inside–out of how the wonders of nature and personal transformations happen. I want to put some light on a variety of educational programs that take place in Forest Park and other natural areas.
Forest Park Youth Corps
Forest Park Youth Corps is a coordinated multifaceted service and education program that provides employment, education and leadership training for a select cadre of African-American urban youth, aged eighteen to twenty. This program is envisioned as a summer employment program with a regular year round enrichment, service, and social opportunities for participants.
A Voyage of Learning Teacher’s Academy
A Voyage of Learning Teacher’s Academy is a summer program for teachers of St. Louis area that builds meaningful connections between students, teachers, the Voyager institutions and cultural institutions in Forest Park. Throughout the eight days of intensive professional development programming, the instructional team emphasizes knowledge, skills, and resources essential to effective experiential education, with the ultimate goal of encouraging teachers to utilize Forest Park as a natural extension of the classroom.
Forest Park Summer Youth Program
Forest Park Summer Youth Program is a summer day camp program that provides a variety of educational outdoor experiences for approximately 200 six to eleven year-old African American participants from the Mathews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club and Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club. The program takes children to a variety of outdoor sites and educates them about forest, fish, wildlife, nature and natural places. On nature walks they learn about basic ecology, plant and bird identification, aquatic invertebrate sampling, floods and floodplain ecology, outdoor skills including map reading.
Forest Park Forever Internship Program
Forest Park Forever‘s Internship program is a summer program in Nature Reserve, Educational Outreach and Horticulture that brings rising juniors/seniors as well as graduate students with coursework in botany, land management and restoration, biology, forestry and other related fields to apply their knowledge and skills in the natural setting. Interns’ projects include landscape gardening, flora and fauna surveys, water quality work, and educational outings. Each summer the program comprises of about 10 interns.
The Participants of these programs often refer to their experiences as a Voyage of Learning, or a Voyage of Discovery that open up new horizons. We often hear from the participants that their engagement in the program has started their exploration journey.
Often times education is about covering the content, and intellectualization of it, but is that really a way we want to approach learning? Do we really want the children to stay in the classroom and not be exposed to rich experiences that they might have if the teacher introduces them to the life of nature and much more through these educational programs?
Experiences are important. Summer programs allow us to have these experiences. A few questions come up : How do we make sure that these programs will be there next year? How can we develop more programs and touch the lives of different groups of people: kids, youngsters, adults? Can you help?
Experiential education is more than a few activities or a workshop topic. It is an approach, a style, maybe even a way of life. If you think it might be your way, check out UMSL’s fall evening class TCH ED 6440 (Info also available at the Forest Park Visitor Center).
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