Environmental Educator Internship with the National Park Service
For my internship, I worked with the National Park Service as an environmental
educator. My contact at the Whitman Mission was Mike Dedman, and he mainly provided
me with other contacts to work with in developing environmental education programs
outside of the park. I did weekly hour-long lessons at My Friend’s House,
the daycare at the YWCA, working with 2 ½ to 4 year olds and trying to
teach them about the environment. I also tried to get in contact with the Homelink
program at Berney Elementary School to do lessons with the home school students
in elementary and middle school who go there for classes during the week. I
also made it out to the mission once to help with and observe a visiting environmental
education program that was working with local fourth graders.
My goals and objectives for my internship were:
• To work as an environmental educator, teaching students about different aspects of the environment, using pre-established lesson plans.
o I was given a copy of the Project WILD, Project WILD Aquatic, and Project Learning Tree environmental education activity guides, which were full of lessons for students in kindergarten through high school, all pertaining to environmental lessons, either related to animals, plants, or ecosystems on land, in the water, or with forest ecology, respectively.
• To help design new lesson plans where necessary for programs at the Whitman Mission, or at other locations that requested or required a specially designed program.
I spent the majority of my internship working with My Friends’
House day care and the 3-4 year olds there doing different environmental education
activities and trying to get these young students to begin to think about their
environment in a more critical way. I tried to address some of the aspects of
their local environment, some different ecosystem interactions that occur, as
well as to give them an increased appreciation for our world in general through
activities that used objects we often consider trash as forms of entertainment.
Every week, I spent time before the lesson finding an appropriate lesson plan in the activity guides I received from Mike and altering it so that it was appropriate for this young age group, or designing my own lesson plans for the day care children. Each week, I would spend some time playing with the children, would read them some short stories their regular teachers had selected, and would then begin my lesson, talking briefly with them about the issue or concept we were addressing, and then finishing up with an art project or some other form of activity to apply the lesson. The lessons I taught were:
• Discussed wild versus domestic animals and what makes them different as well as what they all have in common. We looked at pictures of different animals, identifying them and what made them unique.
• Collected fallen leaves from a park by the YMCA and used them to make leaf rubbings. Addressed the different shapes, sizes, and colors of the leaves and how (and briefly why) they fall every autumn.
• Used recycled materials (tissue boxes, toilet paper roles, egg cartons, etc.) as toys, using our imaginations to use them as whatever we wanted. Addressed the concept of reusing recyclable materials and that you don’t need new toys to have fun – the imagination is a powerful tool.
• Played a game pretending to be animals looking for food, water, and shelter in order to survive, emphasizing what all animals need to survive and that it is sometimes hard to find all the necessary elements.
• Made jackets out of paper bags and discussed how some of our clothes are made from plant and animal products, and what animals do to stay warm in the winter.
• Talked about where our food comes from and what is required to get it to the store, then made hand turkeys to celebrate Thanksgiving.
• Discussed the role of owls in the ecosystem and played owl tag to emphasize their role as predators.
I had a lot of fun planning and executing my lessons at the day care
because the children there always seemed happy to see me and were excited to
share their ideas, though they were not always on topic. Because the children
were so young, it was often difficult to keep their attention for more than
a few minutes, and I found that the more active and hands on the activity that
we did was, the better it went and the longer the group was able to stay engaged
in the activity. The activities that we did that were most successful were playing
with recyclables like egg cartons and toilet paper roles, making jackets out
of paper bags and discussing how animals stay warm in the winter, and playing
the owl tag game. These activities all allowed the children to use their imaginations
and to take the activity in their own direction, which kept them engaged and
thinking about some of the topics we had discussed. Even when the activities
that I planned did not go exactly how I had expected, I was able to modify them
depending on what the kids were most interested or excited about, and I think
that this was the main reason that these activities were the most successful.
One of my largest frustrations with this project was just trying to find enough time to do everything I wanted to do. My semester has been much busier than I expected because of senior seminar classes, studying for the GRE, and working on my thesis and I did not think that doing these activities would take up as much time as they did. I love working with children and would have enjoyed spending many more hours doing it, but it is difficult trying to balance all of these different activities on top of swim practice, classes, and homework. Also, my internship was not as structured as I imagined it would be. I thought that I was going to be working at the Whitman Mission with more or less already prepared lesson plans. I thought that there would be some room to adjust the lessons and to focus on topics of my choice, but I did not realize that everything was going to be so up in the air. It was fun being able to go in whatever direction that I chose with the daycare children, but because they were all so young, it made it hard to actually teach them anything of significance. Most of the children there were only two and a half to three years old, and a few of them were four, when I initially thought they were going to be closer to five years old. As a result, the activities that I did with them had to be very straightforward and hands on in order to keep their attention for any significant length of time. However, one of the goals that Mike had for me at the beginning of my internship was to work with age groups outside of my comfort zone, and I think that I was able to do that by working with such a young age group and I had a good time doing it.
Another aspect of the internship that was frustrating for me and that I have learned is that it is harder to get in contact with people and make plans than I thought. I was always busy during the weekdays, which is when most people in the working world conduct most of their business, which made it hard to make initial contact. In addition, not everyone is good at responding to emails, something that I, myself, have been guilty of in the past, but that can be very frustrating nonetheless. I was able to get in contact with Valerie from the Homelink program and we left messages for each other to try to get something started, but it seemed that whenever I had time on a Friday to do a lesson, the schools were closed, and whenever she said they would be able to have a lesson, I was out of town, either on break or for swimming, etc. I found this disappointing because it would have been fun to have been able to work with the program, but I still enjoyed the work that I was able to do at My Friends’ House.
Toward the end of my internship, I was also able to go out to the Whitman Mission one Friday when some environmental educators from the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle were working with a local fourth grade classroom at the mission. They worked with a program called Wild Wise, which is run through the zoo and which travels around the state working with elementary school classrooms. I really enjoyed being able to observe part of their program and to talk to some of the students who participated in it, as well as the two people who were leading the program, as I am interested in working for an environmental education program next year after I graduate. It was good to be able to gain more first-hand experience with this sort of education in order to better understand both the politics of the job as well as some important skills that could facilitate my future success in the field.
For future students considering this internship, I would recommend pointing out that there are not any structured programs to participate in. Rather, it will be largely up to them to make contact with the different programs they will be working with and to choose what sorts of lessons they want to teach just so that they know they will not be able to jump right into a teaching position.
In the time that I spent at the daycare, I do feel that I made an impact of the children there, as they asked me each week if I was coming back, which meant that they were at least enjoying their time with me. For this age group, I think that leaving them with a positive impression of their interactions with the environment is possibly just as important as any specifics that they learn. If they gained an appreciation for their surrounding world that they carry on with them into the future, they will hopefully have a more enriching relationship with it that will carry on into their future, making them more open and receptive to respecting the environment and continuing their environmental education into the future.
Mike Dedman – National Park Service, Whitman Mission
Nancy Butler and Kathy – My Friends’ House (YWCA Daycare)
Valerie Gentzler – Homelink