It wasn’t just a sunny day at the beach; it was a wing flapping, habitat building, critter spying kind of day. It was a moving experience of a community’s commitment to instilling the value of nature into the willing minds of children. On July 16th, The Nature Conservancy of Rhode Island and the Little Compton Garden Club sponsored “Goosewing Family Day” in which every guest was given a “Nature Passport” and encouraged to visit five educational “Exploration Stations”. They began their adventure at the new Benjamin Family Environmental Center located at Goosewing Beach Preserve in Little Compton, RI. Next, they journeyed along the beachfront until they found themselves at the water-rushing outlet of Quicksand Pond—one of the most naturally flowing salt pond ecosystems in the state. Upon completion of their journey, each participant, child or adult, not only received a specially designed “Connect to Nature” patch but, hopefully, acquired the desire to revisit this landscape with a renewed sense of perspective.
The “Exploration Stations” were designed to involve children both physically and intellectually, and to encourage their appreciation of the living creatures that share our world. At one station their imaginations were challenged to become a bird and fly the long migration to South America. They flapped their wings, discovered the obstacles they would have to overcome, and learned to appreciate the amount of energy birds need to embark upon such a great a journey. After receiving more information, they were asked questions such as “How many hamburgers would you have to eat to fly all that way,” comparing their needs to those of a fellow living organism.
Participants continued to move through the stations and discovered, to their amazement, that they share this beach with birds that nest right on the sand and cobble just above the high tide line, adjacent to the places where they might lay their beach towels down. Small children gazed through binoculars and field scopes, some never having had the opportunity before. They were fascinated as formerly small or unseen objects revealed themselves; they discovered yet another way to look at the world.
The success of this day would not have been realized without the dozens of dedicated volunteers, interns and staff. They joined forces and shared their energy to engage children in activities that would “hook” them into wanting to know more about the living things they share the beach with and that may go unnoticed during other trips to the beach, when boogie boarding and sandcastles are the main items on the agenda. Connecticut College intern, Andrew Harrington, knows that every organism needs a good place to live. He, along with dedicated volunteer, Terry Hahn, encouraged the station-goers to dig into the sand and “Build-A-Habitat” for an imaginary creature. “I had a lot of fun running the station,” he said. “I thought all the kids were really well behaved, enthusiastic, and smart. They turned rocks, sand, and dried clumps of seaweed into seagull nests, crab dens, and cricket colonies.”
When they reached the final station, many of the day’s guests participated in a seining net demonstration in the brackish water of Quicksand Pond’s breachway. They hauled out fish, shrimp, crabs and worms and gazed at all the colors and shapes contrasting the white trays laid out as the creatures’ temporary home. They were able to understand, in a simple way, the relationship of water and mud inhabitants to the well-being of the birds that nest there…and much more.
If we could, we would personally thank each parent who took the time out of their busy summer calendars to pack the kids and sunscreen into the car and head out on a Saturday morning. They are the ones with the true spirit of unearthing the wonder of nature to their children. Watch out, all you parents, you yourselves just might find a little tension relief flapping your wings…and wondering!