Earth Day lessons take root

Ecology: More than an enjoyable outing, a day at Nixon's Farm in Howard County helps teach children from West Friendship Elementary School environmental awareness.

April 22, 2001|By Tanika White | By Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Six-year-old Hannah Clements happily plunked tiny tomato seeds into a plastic cup, plowing her fingers through the dark soil and humming to herself.

"We're gonna water it, and then in a couple of days, it's gonna grow," she announced to no one in particular.

But what Hannah didn't know was that the exercise in seed-planting at Nixon's Farm on Friday was an attempt by her teachers and administrators at West Friendship Elementary School to plant seeds of another kind - ones that are subtler, but longer-lasting.

"We're hoping to bring about a greater environmental awareness," said Principal Sandra Mc- Amis. "An appreciation of the Earth, how we are a part of it and how we can protect it and enjoy it."

So that was why all of West Friendship Elementary's more than 400 children were taken to the lush family farm on Route 32 - two days before Earth Day's official celebration - to get their hands and faces dirty and the knees of their jeans grass-stained.

The children were treated to a host of activities, each with an educational core.

The fun factor was extremely important in attempting to make nature buffs out of Howard County's suburban youngsters.

Some fourth-graders grabbed compasses and clipboards and headed off to master the sport of orienteering, or navigating by using directional bearings.

At the first stop -140 paces south of their starting point - the kids were directed to take a seat on a gravel path.

"The grass is right there. Why can't we sit on the grass?" asked 10-year-old Tina Ritter, turning up her nose at the uncomfortable-looking rocks.

"Because it's Earth Day," said student-teacher Mandy Hofstetter.

Tina looked unconvinced.

When birdwatcher Ralph Geuder explained to a group of fifth-graders that Maryland's barred owl got its name from the bar-like stripes on its breast feathers, a table of fifth-graders erupted in silent giggles because of his innocent utterance of the "b-word."

First-grader Amanda Jacober had to be convinced that dandelions weren't for midmorning consumption, and another group of first-graders, learning about worm composting, were more interested in the worms than the compost.

While the lesson was going on - complete with three tubs of tiny red wiggler worms - the first-graders found an unsuspecting fat and juicy bloodworm in the damp ground nearby and huddled around it, their "yucks" and "ewwws" filling the air.

They named him Wiggly Squishy Harvey.

Some lessons took root, however.

Six-year-old Ali Horn learned the importance of recycling from Glenelg High School volunteer Sarah Knightonwisor.

Her group used shredded construction paper soaked in water to make new, usable circles of paper.

"Making paper is good because when you throw stuff away you can't make anything," Ali said. "It just goes in the trash."

Joseph Marsico, 6, learned that worms aren't just juicy and slimy - they create tunnels in the soil that allow air to seep through. That's why Wiggly Squishy Harvey is so valuable to gardens.

"He's going to help it grow," Joseph said.

And some fifth-graders learned that owls should be protected not only because they keep down the population of rodents and insects. More entertainingly, many of them make hooting sounds to dance to.

"Listen," Geuder said, cueing up a tape recording. "The barred owl sounds like he's singing, `Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?'"

The fifth-graders snapped their fingers and rocked to the beat of the bird's call. Duh-duh-duh-DUH. Duh-duh-duh-DUH-duh!

"That's awesome!" said 11-year- old Evan Cullison, dancing in his chair, as the rest of his classmates boogied along.

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