Discovering Nature In The City

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

"Can we do it again?" asked Emily Bennett, a fourth grader from Gladstone Elementary School. She and four classmates just finished following a scent trail, where they used their sense of smell and knowledge of animal signs to identify animals.

Before Conservation Education Program Coordinator Bob Fluchel had a chance to say, "Yes," Emily and the rest of her group were already hot on the trail of yet another animal.

The students were enthusiastically participating in Exploring the Outdoors, one of the six educational workshops held at the newly opened Discovery Center. The center is part of Kansas City's Urban Conservation Campus and the Conservation Department's newest educational facility. The Discovery Center's building uses innovative conservation techniques (see side bar), but the workshops are where conservation ideas really flourish.

"The best clues were the tracks," says Ruben Paniagua, who tracked a chipmunk, deer and raccoon in this indoor activity before it was time to move to the next station.

Twenty boxes on the scent trail held the clues, which included scat (made of a very realistic, unscented plastic), food droppings and nesting materials. The scents, in vials in front of each box, were of common items kids could identify, such as chocolate and vanilla. When the same scent was followed, the child could find clues to the same animal.

In addition to indoor workshop activities like the scent trail, they go outside to hone their newly acquired skills on the 10-acre grounds. When 4th-graders from Gladstone Elementary venture outside to look for animal signs, Jesus Villescas was the first to spot a partial track in the dirt. By looking at his field guide, he knew it had to be either a red fox, a dog or a coyote because a claw mark was visible.

"Which one would you probably find right here next to the sidewalk where people walk?" asked Education Specialist Amy Hite.

"A dog," answered Jesus. The rest of the group agrees, and they all write this observation in their journals.

Next, the group finds a hole in the dirt. Inside they discover a small piece of a nut shell. The children consult their field guides and decide the shell must have left by a squirrel. After several inquiries about how to spell squirrel, they enter the word in their journal.

In each workshop, the kids receive journals to note their observations about nature, just like Meriwether Lewis and

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