Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My Service Learning Project at Placer Nature Center by Christine Sullivan

Christine came to Placer Nature Center in 2011 to complete a service learning project from California State University, Sacramento. This is her last journal entry for the class:

Author: Christine Sullivan
November 7, 2011
Place of Internship: Placer Nature Center
Focus on: Preschool – Grade 8 Education

Journal #4 - Service Learning Project

Entering this class I was really concerned about having to participate in a service learning project. As I am not going into the field of teaching or even child care, I felt really out of my element. As it was, it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I was able to work with many children of different ages, and I met a lot of wonderful people who were so obviously passionate about their work. Working at the Placer Nature Center specifically was really rewarding because it was a reminder that life exists outdoors. 

As a child I spent a lot of my time running around outside, in and out of woods and creeks and I loved it. As an adult it was like my entire life transitioned indoors and it was as if nature was a long forgotten memory. I’ve since learned I apparently suffered from Nature Deficit Disorder; something my generation seemed to have claimed as our own. Our young children are not getting the exposure to nature that they need to fully understand the process of life. 

Sharing a Teacher's Moment

The most exciting part of this entire experience was seeing the young children’s expressions when they discovered a lizard, or learned what animal made those tracks. Like so many teachers experience, the moment that an understanding clicks in a child’s mind is so powerful. This is a moment, a memory that helps build a lifetime, and you are witness to it. I realized that I didn’t need to become a teacher to help teach children about life, and the center really opened my eyes to other ways I can take my passion and knowledge and offer them to young children.

Each event that I participated in made me remember things I learned as a child and have long since forgotten. If it wasn’t a retrieval of memories it was a new lesson and I’ve learned more about nature in these last few months than I learned in college biology classes. I think this is in large part because it’s a very hands on experience and their wonderful teachers, like the centers naturalist. It’s also because everything is done in small groups and so the teacher-student ratio is low and that can be very helpful. 

Parent Involvement

One of my favorite things about the way the center does their activities is that it’s all parent involved. The real focus is providing parents with the tools and ideas to teach their children about nature. The people at the center are facilitators and the parents are the teachers. I was moved by the amount of parental involvement, it feels these days that parenting is only a part-time job and that teachers and child-care providers are there to pick up the slack. The importance of the child seeing their parent’s involvement and interest is immense and I loved being part of a place that really understood that.

Beyond the Service Project

Aside from the joy of working with children directly, both on and off site, I was also able to help out in more administrative ways. I really enjoy event planning and running and I loved being able to greet people as they arrived and deal with the registration and money issues; something they seemed grateful for. I’m also currently updating the curriculum they provide on their website and I enjoy being a part of that. I love that I get to help provide this knowledge and these resources for parents and that I’m now a part of what makes the center tick. 

I’m also using my artistic skills by helping them create information boards. I have also taken a lot of beautiful pictures of the facilities and plan on making a wonderful slideshow of the images to give viewers a type of virtual tour. I’m really enjoying using preexisting abilities in combination with newfound ones and I feel like I’ve found a way to encompass all my skills into one place.
All in all I feel like this has been a wonderful experience. It has shown me that I am far more capable of working in this field than I originally thought. I have always had a natural comfort around children and I’ve done a lot of work organizing things that children can do or learn from and so it seemed silly that I was so convinced I might fail. I tend to feel that way about anything I do and I think that this experience has made headway to changing that. I’ve made friends here and their enthusiasm is extraordinarily contagious. They never doubted me, even before they got to know me and it was easy to prove them right knowing I had their support. 

This was also something that I was able to share with my family and it was great being able to take my school and work life and have my niece participate in it. I love opportunities when I can show her the positive outcomes from doing well in school, working hard, and helping others. Not only was she able to see her aunt doing positive things for the community, but she was also exposed to nature she previously had not been. 

She really enjoyed her time outdoors with us and that alone was reward enough. When all is said and done, I know that I’ve found a place that I can help make grow and a place that will help me grow. I’m so grateful this experience was so positive; it’s definitely made me more confident on my journey into this emotional, difficult, but rewarding field.

~ Christine Sullivan

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