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Audubon Center
Trail Mix
When it comes to exploring the great outdoors, kids offer a fresh perspective.

Naturalist Paul Knoop Jr. leading kids along a nature trail at the Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm.
Courtesy of the Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm

Chris Rowlands is an environmental educator at the Audubon Aullwood Nature Center and Farm in Dayton, Ohio. During my recent visit there, he remarked how savvy some kids are about seeing what’s going on around them in the woods.

“I was leading a group of first-graders on the trails here a week or so ago,” Chris recalled. “There were wildflowers blooming, and so I stopped and asked the group, ‘What do plants make?’ I got the usual answers—‘Flowers,’ Leaves,’ ‘Food for animals to eat.’ Then one first-grader raised his hand and said, ‘Sugar.’ I might not get that answer from a high school kid!”

Sometimes young visitors to a natural area are well primed by their teachers. If not, they find a way to cut through the surrounding complexity to the heart of the matter. There is the story, probably made up by an adult eager to make a point, about the little boy whose class was visiting a city park in the Bronx.

Little Boy: (pointing) “There’s a boid in that tree.”

Teacher: (admonishingly) “Not boid, Johnnie.”

Little Boy: (persisting) “Well, it looks like a boid.”

Of course. Under any name it’s still a boid. And if a child doesn’t have a name for a natural phenomenon, there’s always a way to communicate. A member of the staff of an Audubon center once told me about a youngster who stood watching a mallard waddle across the grass near a pond. After a minute or so, the child looked up and said, “This bird doesn’t have any between-the-toes.”

Maybe biologists should just stick the word “palmate” back into the dictionary. The kid said it all.

Another naturalist told me about leading a country outing for a group of school kids from New York City’s Lower East Side. As they hiked through the woods, a chipmunk suddenly darted across the trail. Startled, one of the youngsters blurted out:

“Jeez—a rat wit’ stripes!”

That kid knew everything in nature is connected.

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Read related story, "Come One, Come Aull"

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