Hannah Palm is getting ready to engage elementary school students in an exploration of pond habitats. She gathers her supplies: laminated pictures of pond life and other animals that depend on ponds. Exoskeletons of dragonfly nymphs. A study skin of a bird that uses the ponds. Nets, bug boxes and tubs to look for life in the pond. She’ll use these tools to teach why ponds are important and how animals use ponds in ways that participants may not always think about. Of course, there are also games, and the kids are excited to be outside.
As a Seattle Urban Nature Guide through Seattle Parks and Recreation’s Environmental Education programming, Hannah volunteers her time a few days a month to support local school children on field trips in learning about the plants, wildlife, water and land around them. She is one of 51 SUN Guides, who have led more than 200 programs like this so far in 2018. The SUN Guides work primarily with either school groups or at events that are open to the public, for which you may register here.
Kristin Trinca attended the same Spring training as Hannah, but her focus is on public events. She has also runs programming exploring ponds, but her audience ranges from tiny toddlers to adults of all ages. Rather than focusing on games to hold her audience’s attention, Kristin spends more of her time in enthusiastic conversations with individuals who want to know more about the park or beach they are exploring.
Most volunteers who become SUN Guides aren’t experienced teachers or naturalists before getting started with us. After completing the four required full-day trainings, SUN Guides are well-versed in how to guide nature experiences with various audiences, employing a variety of ways to engage children in different developmental stages, and facilitating activities to engage participants of all ages.
In addition, Guides gain knowledge in cultural awareness, racial justice, and gender equity as part of becoming eligible to lead programs. This intensive informative instruction is free to volunteers, and only requires that they agree to provide a minimum of 8 programs throughout the following year. Many SUN Guides choose to lead far more!
This Fall, school and public programming will revolve around learning about spiders and urban forest habitats. Presenting a session about spiders is a fun challenge for SUN Guide volunteers: Hannah is especially excited to give people a positive experience with a creature that most people see in a negative way.
Being a volunteer naturalist through the SUN Guide program is a remarkable way of engaging with a variety of ecosystems and providing opportunities for community members to learn about their local environment. Applications to join the Spring training session will be available in January on the Environmental Education Volunteers website. In Kristin’s experience, “you will be more impressed than ever with the Seattle Parks system and eager to share it with others. You will love the people you meet as much as the parks you discover.”
Story by Jenn Romo, Seattle Parks and Recreation’s Volunteer Programs Coordinator