Frog crafts, calls, games, hikes, observations, catching and displays – all things frog took over Farbach-Werner Nature Preserve during the month of May. Staff and volunteers take this time to celebrate the changing of the seasons, as amphibians of all kinds make themselves known. This past month, more than 600 children visited this small patch of nature to do just that.
A walk to the pond with a watchful eye will often yield a green frog hidden in the mud. On a cloudy day before the rains, you are likely to be greeted by a gray tree frog calling from the corner of the park. A hot summer afternoon or evening brings the deep jug-o-rum of bullfrogs looking for a mate. A quick look in the stream often reveals salamander larvae with their feathery gills decorating their heads. This transition between spring and summer is full of activity, and it is our goal to help our guests experience it all.
Every field trip begins the same. As children unload from buses, we see smiles from the regular walkers as the air fills with chatter and excitement. After being warmly welcomed, the group is lead into the nearly 200-year-old nature barn, where the children are stimulated by the new sights, sounds and smells. Some walk in and take a deep breath while others are fascinated by the mounts on display. It never takes long before someone notices the live animals and then everyone wants to see them.
This exploration is a huge part of the experience. It allows children to see the large array of diversity present in nature and gets the gears turning in their heads. As nature interpreters, we bounce around the room engaging the children in their interests and prompting deeper thought through questions such as, “What does this animal need to survive?” or “How is this animal similar to a frog?” After a quick encounter with each child, we gather together and jump into our topic for the day. Each time, the children are thrilled to share the connections they have made while observing the barn.
Perhaps the most meaningful part of these trips occurs on the trail, where the children get the chance to experience frogs and toads as part of a larger community. We use all of our senses in these experiences as we feel the cool pond water, smell the muck from the bottom of the pond, look carefully for those camouflaged frogs and listen to the sounds around us. As for taste, only once did I have a child attempt to lick the stinky pond muck. We observe the squirrels near the pond, the crayfish that share frog habitat, the dragonfly nymphs in the leaves and how everything lives together. We play games while learning why frogs call and how they find each other. Whenever possible, we call each child by name and engage each individual. We tell them this is their space and they are welcome to visit with their family at any time.
While each field trip begins the same, they take their own twists and turns along the way. If a group wants to look at squirrels, touch the carpenter bees or just run their fingers through the vegetation, we allow time for that and relate it to the ecosystem as a whole. At the end of the day, the children leave with a basic understanding of metamorphosis (bonus points if they can pronounce it), what makes an amphibian, the difference between frogs and toads, the habitat they need and how scientists study the pond. However, our goal is that they leave with more. We strive for each child to interact with nature in a new way. We want them to feel connected to this park and welcome in this place. We hope they begin to understand they are part of a larger community, which includes, but is not limited to, the natural world.
Nature Interpreter, Farbach-Werner Nature Preserve