How early in life can children learn to preserve the earth's fragileenvironment? Gerry Fraim is convinced the process should start even before they begin school.
Fraim presides over "Mother Nature, Mom and Me," a Piney Run Nature Center program that meets once monthly for three months to inspire pre-schoolers to give Mother Nature lots oftender loving care.
"Some kids will pick up the ideas from the program, although I amsurprised some of them are already far beyond what I tell them," Fraim said.
"The strongest impact is probably on the parents. Those who bring their kids to a nature class are the same ones who will promote interest in and care of the environment."
On a recent chilly morning, 12 children and their moms gathered at Piney Run where Fraim presented hands-on experiences in peaceful coexistence with our environment.
A bandage applied to a globe was her graphic way of emphasizing that the earth often sustains injuries through human carelessness. Moms and kids formed a circle to demonstrate the interrelationship of all the elements that make up the earth -- land, air, water, people, animals and plants. Then, aseach "element" was told to fall down, the group saw that it was impossible for one part of the environment to fail without pulling down the others.
During the program, which is now in its eighth year, kids and moms learned of "dirty rain," the effects of smoke on the environment and how spilled oil destroys water.
As they played a game that showed how crowding the earth with people leaves little or no room for plants and animals, the kids chanted, "Goodbye, elephants!" "Goodbye, plants!"
Equally popular was a game called "Where does the garbage go?" Each child got a chanceto be a litter bug and then to clean up the scattered trash.
After a 10-minute session in which moms and kids went off on their own tofind examples of good and bad things that are happening to the earth, everyone returned indoors where Fraim had arranged a series of "learning stations"
about the room. With their moms, children went from station to station for some hands-on experience in good environmental practices.
At one station, they learned to sort recyclable trash into proper containers. At another, they chose between plastic foodcontainers and reusable tableware. Youngsters found out how to choose good toys, recycle used clothing, choose healthy snack foods and turn off unused electrical appliances.
Perhaps most popular was the demonstration in which kids and moms planted a flower seed in a papercup, which they took home with them.
"Some of the younger ones did not comprehend the stations well," said Fraim, 34. "But it was important for them to have those experiences so they will realize they can't make decisions based only on their own needs."
Fraim's interest in nature began early. The self-trained naturalist was raised on what she describes as "a leftover farm in a Chicago suburb."
Fraim, who received a master's degree in art therapy from the University of Louisville in 1983, took a position as "high adventure coordinator" for the Louisville, Ky., schools when she found herself unable to findemployment in her field. In the job, she introduced youngsters to rafting, hiking, climbing and other outdoor activities.
After movingto Baltimore in 1986 with her husband, David, an entomologist, Fraimworked at Piney Run as gatekeeper, groundskeeper and naturalist.
When the person who was conducting the Mother Nature, Mom and Me program left in the spring of 1990, Fraim took over. She also conducted Piney Run's nature camp last summer.
Piney Run's director, Melinda Byrd, has high praise for Fraim.
"The staff looks to Gerry for answers to technical problems. Every issue of the environment interests her," Byrd said.
Byrd also credits Fraim with standardizing programs for Piney Run's summer camp so each age group has its own focus. This summer, Fraim will direct the Children's Learning Camp at the County Farm Museum.
If it were not for the fact that Fraim announces at each session that she suffers a severe hearing loss, few would be aware of it. It is obvious, too, that when it comes to listening to what Mother Nature has to tell her children, Fraim hears very well indeed.
Piney Run Nature Center is accepting registration for the spring session of Mother Nature, Mom and Me. The fee is $5 for members, $6 for non-members. Sessions are 10 a.m., 11:15 a.m. or 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays or Fridays, April 9-12, May 7-10 and June 11-14. Information: 795-6237.
The Department of Natural Resources Forestry Division will distribute wildlife seedling packets from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday at its office on the second floor of Sherwood Square Mall, 15 E. Main Street, Westminster. Packets include two white pines, sawtooth oak, bi-color lespedeza and crabapple seedlings. Information: 848-9290.