you are outside. The sun is shining, illuminating the new growth on the western red cedars. It’s been a great growing season and the plants at Washington Park Arboretum are thriving. The backdrop of evergreen trees is a lovely frame to all of the native and non-native plants in the collection. Now, if they would just get here!
Just when you thought you couldn’t wait any longer, here comes the bus holding 60 scheduled school-aged children just bursting with energy and excitement to be out of school and outside on such a fine day as this. Today, you will be teaching 15 of them the Native Plants and Native People program. What is native? What is invasive? Who was born in this state? Who are the Puget Sound Salish People? The kids get engaged by the questions you ask. You are showing them their participation and input is valuable.
You will focus some of their amazing energy into a running game about what it is people need to survive. After they have run out some of their shenanigans, you might point out that most everything folks need to survive comes from plants. And with the Puget Sound Salish People, they didn’t just use any old plants; they used plants that are native – original to this place.
It will surprise you how many of them know what a western red cedar looks like. The J-shaped branches and the flat leaves are very familiar to most of them. But, you can still teach them about western hemlock and its different length needles and puzzle-piece bark. Douglas fir might be new to them, too. Though, once the children see the deep and creviced bark and the way-up high branches, it will be hard for them to forget. Maybe you will tell them the story of the mouse looking for a safe home during a forest fire using the cones of each to differentiate and describe the three trees. You know that story will create a great memory for them about how to identify all three trees.
You will show them artifacts made by local Ethnobotanist, Heidi Bohan. They will get a chance to touch and hold a model of a cedar weaving, fishing spear or canoe bailer. Each made to demonstrate how plants can be used to create a beautiful and useful object that could help a person survive and thrive. When you ask the kids what they use in their everyday lives that is made from plants, you are impressed that the list they give you is so long.
When you show them to salal and Oregon grape plants and tell them about how berries from each were mixed together along with huckleberry to make a delicious berry cake sort of like a fruit roll up, you can see that they are almost ready for lunch! To distract them, you get them going on the hands-on activities.
This is your favorite part, because they have to work together as a team – just as Puget Sound Salish people of the past and present – to understand how to use a fire bow and drill or to build a single wall of a plank house or to learn how to cook food below the ground. It’s a great distraction because they’ve forgotten about their hunger for a moment as they dig in to the task at hand.
It’s nearly the end of the program, now. You gather them together and ask each person to tell you something they learned or liked from the field trip. It is thrilling how many of them remember that the western hemlock makes sunscreen, how Douglas fir has mouse butts in the cones or that homes can be made without nails.
You thank them and walk them back to the start where their bus will come for them and take them back to school. You hope they will remember today as a positive and fun day. You hope the time here will aid them in their classroom work. Most of all, you hope they will continue to love and learn about plants and one day be a person who advocates for and serves the environment.
You head back to the work room to talk with your fellow guides about the kids and their chaperones and to put away the activities and props from the program. You are tired – sheesh, kids take it out of you – but you are proud to be a part of something important and worthy.
This is the kind of day we get to have at University of Washington Botanic Gardens Washington Park Arboretum. Is it the kind of day you might like?
Our Volunteer Garden Guides bring their knowledge and skills to teach about native plants, forests, pollination, photosynthesis, wetland plants and animals, ecosystems and habitat. We provide training, curricula and enrichments so each person is confident and comfortable teaching.
Consider donating your valuable time and expertise to connecting kids to nature through field trips. We welcome you to be a part of our incredible team of staff and volunteers. We can tell you will fit right in.
- UW Botanic Gardens Volunteer Garden Guide Training begins September 5th with a kayak tour of the Washington Park Arboretum and continues the following week.
- For more information about becoming a volunteer and training, please contact Lisa Sanphillippo, School Programs Coordinator, at 206-543-8801 or firstname.lastname@example.org.