Valley Journal
Valley Journal

Teachers get wild at Bison Range workshop

You learn something new every day, a fact that was certainly true at a discovery workshop for teachers held Friday at the National Bison Range. About 20 Western Montana educators who work with children ages 3-7 attended the Growing Up WILD workshop, where they were introduced to a variety of activities that will help them help their students experience the outdoors.

From a morning session where the teachers learned to pronounce some Salish words, pretended to be bears foraging for food — gummy worms, in this case — and practiced data gathering and math skills to introduce to their students, to an afternoon spent exploring pond life and insect collection, the workshop was a hit with everyone involved. 

Kurt Cunningham, an education specialist with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and Pat Jamieson, the Bison Range’s outdoor recreation planner, led the workshop, encouraging the teachers to enjoy themselves and to return to their classrooms invigorated. According to FWP, the goal of Growing Up WILD is to build on children’s sense of wonder about nature and invite them to explore wildlife and the world around them. 

“It’s kind of brand new, and it’s really kind of exciting,” Cunningham said.

He’s conducted several similar workshops lately and said there’s been a great response among educators. It’s no secret that a lack of outdoor activity among America’s youth has contributed to a childhood health crisis with climbing rates of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, ADHD, and depression. As more studies are released about the importance of connecting kids with nature, awareness of “Nature Deficit Disorder” is growing, and more teachers are eager to find ways to incorporate more outdoor experiences in the classroom.

“We’re still pretty good in Montana, but we want to make sure that our youth are connected to nature, because obviously it’s a big part of our state,” Cunningham explained.

FWP has also published a teacher’s guide to activities to get young students more in touch with the natural world, but “teachers use what they’re comfortable with,” so practicing the activities at a workshop really helps, Cunningham said.

“These people touch so many little people … our strategy is: If we can work with a teacher, they’re going to touch so many little lives,” he said. “These teachers can take back what they learned today and implement it on Monday.”

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