Naturalists Bring the River to the Classroom
Byline: Rachel Baruch Yackley
Without getting their feet wet, students throughout Kane County have been learning all about life in and around our waterways through Watershed Outreach Programs.
Paid for by a grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, these programs consist of a set of six individual offerings, each designed for specific age groups.
Valerie DePrez, nature programs supervisor at Tekakwitha Woods Forest Preserve, said that the programs were created as an extension of the new "Fox River: A Clam's-Eye View" exhibit, housed in the Shoemaker Nature Center at the St. Charles preserve.
"Creating this new exhibit was not an end in and of itself. It was intended as a springboard for other programs," she said. "The educational part of this does not end with the physical structure we built. We also want to reach out and continue educating the community."
Since the beginning of the current school year, kindergarten through 12th-grade students from Elgin down to Aurora have been exploring the watershed right in their classrooms.
Outreach naturalist Kathy Salzmann, who taught middle school science for 16 years, is the one who brings the program's activities to the schools.
"Wet and Wild Mammals of the Fox River" is the kindergarten program, where Salzmann brings in hands-on materials and helps the students explore the roles that beavers play in a river system.
"I try to bring some models with me," Salzmann said. "I find that all eyes enjoy that. With the younger kids, I bring in beaver fur, a beaver skull and teeth. We do an art project where the students get to make their own beaver, and I even wrote a song. We try to keep it fun and interesting."
First-grade students get the "Build a River" program, where they listen to a tape of the book "My River" and build a miniature river ecosystem.
"Watershed Detective" is for second-graders; they get to play a game focusing on predators and prey.
Third- through fifth-graders experience and learn about "The Four Seasons of the Fox River."
"This is based on animals and what they do in the four seasons. I split the class into small groups and give each group a booklet on an animal. Each group presents its animal to the class and tells how it deals with a particular season," Salzmann said. …