Marsh Meander: STEAM-y

Naturalist Steph wowing kids with a turtle shell

Some of my favorite programs over the years have involved collaboration with community partners or everyday experts who come in (or we go out to) to create fun experiences for the kids.  When we saw the CLSP theme of Dig into Reading for the year we knew that we were going to have plenty of opportunities to partner up.

Our city is absolutely blessed with wild, natural places: towering bluffs, the Mississippi River, marshland, forested areas and prairie (I know!!!). Combined with a significant number of residents who place high value on sustainability, preserving recreational opportunities and in "getting back to nature" (eating and growing locally and organically), we get a perfect storm of partnerships.

One such partnership was with our city Eco-Park which includes significant acreage with trails in one of our marshes. Beautiful at any time of the year, the marsh is filled with wildlife and wild places that are brought up close and personal with the trails laid through it. Bikers, hikers, strollers, skaters, birders and scientists flock to the area. It's a perfect place to "dig into".

Checking for fish
I contacted the park's naturalist Steph and asked if she would be willing to go on a marsh walk with us. I would episodically share the First Nations story of how the earth was formed on turtle's back (how handy - the tale features creatures found throughout the marsh and that we might see on our meander) at stops along the walk and she would share marsh facts. She agreed. And that was the extent of our communication. She knew I knew story and I knew she knew marsh.

Spotting ducklings
We held the walk a few days ago and it was like a dream come true. Our gathering of kids and parents strolled, learned tips and facts about flora and fauna from Steph and pretty much thrilled to the tale of Skywoman's precipitous fall and the brave animals who helped save her and create the earth.  The kids soon used their new nature-detective eyes to spot dragonflies (and red-winged blackbirds eating the dragonflies and leaving iridescent wings lying everywhere to be collected), ducklings, flowers, herons duckweed and more. Steph's shoulder bag held bug jars, turtle shell, a duck wing and skull, a beaver skull and other goodies to teach the kids more about what the were seeing.

We also share a library collection with the Eco-Park (identification guides and books about the flora and fauna found there) so it was a perfect place to promote books and reading as well. Kids and parents appreciated the opportunity to discover and learn about the ecology of a treasured natural resource right in their backyard. And a chance for their nature-nut children's librarian to get out of the shop and meander down the trail talking story, listening and learning marsh facts and chatting library on a perfect June day?  Well, priceless!

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