Connecting Kids to the Nature That Abounds Within Our National Parks
The youth educational programs within each of our national parks immerse kids in the wonders of the natural world. Students find themselves wading into the sawgrass prairies of the wetlands, sifting through sand, or zipping off by boat to a far-off Florida key to learn about ecosystems and habitats, food chains, adaptation, human impact, and restoration, giving them a chance to connect their classroom teachings to the real world.
At Everglades National Park, the curriculum is tailored for each audience. No two lessons are exactly alike, which allows for the potential continued participation as children progress from second grade through high school. This evolving and continuous relationship between students and the national parks builds a deeper understanding of the world, as well as a profound sense of stewardship. Depending on the lesson, students may find themselves wading through the sawgrass prairies and cypress domes of the northern end of the park, receiving a personal tour of the Nike Missile Base, or even overnight camping at Flamingo, the park’s most southern district and the southern most point of the US mainland.
Big Cypress National Preserve’s program is so valuable to students that it’s actually embedded into the curriculum of Collier County schools! Every year, each sixth grader within the county becomes a scientist-for-a-day as National Park Service rangers lead them through the three different habitats make up the preserve – a cypress dome, the pinelands, and a sawgrass prairie – performing experiments and making scientific observations along the way. In total, that means about 3,000 children are able to experience Big Cypress through this program.
Biscayne National Park offers boat-based learning to students, providing them with the opportunity to hop on a boat with the rangers for a little firsthand exploration on the water. Lessons can also take place landside, where the children use the park’s high-powered microscopes to identify microscopic organisms found within the bay’s waters, learn about the corals found along the Florida Reef, and even seine the shoreline to see what critters find themselves at home just a few steps away from the dry land.
In 2020, we even expanded the ways in which the parks are able to reach students through their environmental education programs. What was once a solely in-park experience transitioned into a fully virtual program that teachers could stream directly into the classroom. Through this virtual offering, the park’s served more than 45,000 students – doubling the number of children they were able to reach.
As life mid- and post-pandemic continues to transition, a mix of in-park and virtual teachings are available to maintain this same amazing momentum.