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Wolves, Kills, Kids and Our Future

Posted by deborahmclaren on January 2, 2010

Children’s Outdoor Environmental Education Experience Story of the Week!

Today I helped my nine-year old write down his memories about the week his class spent at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Minnesota’s great northern woods. His group consisted of about 125 4th, 5th and 6th graders from the Twin Cities who braved below zero winter weather during a very cold December to spend a week near Lake Superior. My husband went along as the Dad chaperone.

Founded in 1971, Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center was the first environmental learning center in the nation to be accredited as a K-12 school and is recognized nationally and internationally as a leader in environmental education. Wolf Ridge is a place where minds open to the joy and wonder of discovery of our natural world. WRELC’s mission is to “stimulate a love and understanding of nature by involving children and adults in direct observation of and participation on the outdoors and promote self-awareness and leadership development in the process.”

Activities and classes at Wolf Ridge are nearly all outdoors, typically three hours in length (and seemed to go from 8:30 am until 9:00 pm every day). Class subjects include environmental science, cultural history, contemporary environmental issues, personal growth, team building and outdoor recreation.

Apparently these kids had some pretty amazing outdoor adventures (ropes course, zip lines), including orienteering (finding your way around in the woods with the help of a compass), a three-mile Lake Superior trail hike where they spotted wolves and a deer kill (4th graders think that is the ultimate in cool), navigating icy cliffs, and instigating some major snow ball wars. The food was yucky but “way better than our school” and the indoor classes included rock wall climbing, learning that if you live near Lake Superior and choose to go on vacation rather than fix your septic tank your neighbor will have to deal with your pee in the water, and how to make Dream Catchers. I loved the photos of my son dressed as the eastern cotton tail, the smallest of the US hares – including the western jack rabbit and snow shoe hare – using his big buck teeth to demonstrate how to eat bark off a branch (and the stories of the morning they were off tracking the snow shoe hare).

Since I had been the first in our family to volunteer as a chaperone I was slightly bummed not to get to go. However, Dads are a scarce resource and my husband was needed to watch over the wild pack of 4th grade boys, including staying in their dorm room where they apparently threw Fudge (someone’s stuffed spider) around until midnight, spent another hour shining their flashlights around the dark room, and got up multiple times to run into other rooms and the bathroom.

The kids raised their own money to go, and raised funds for everyone who wanted to attend. What I’m truly impressed with them about is that they were determined that every kid could go – and their school is very diverse – mainly Hmong, Somalian, and other kids who are, in some situations, the first person in their families to even go to school. A lot of the kids haven’t been out of the city. Connecting with nature in Minnesota’s great north woods is a fantastic experience for anyone – no matter what your age. Hopefully some of them will be inspired to work in nature. We certainly need them. Handing them our messed up climate is one of the things I worry about the most.

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