The need for an education committee seemed obvious when the Blackstone Parks Conservancy set one up last fall. To continue carrying out our mission of caring for the Boulevard and for the 45-acre Blackstone Park Conservation District, we would have to enable more people to learn and care about nature.
Nearly every week for years now, junior high school students led by Audubon teachers supported by the Providence After School Program have been studying the woodland and ponds beside the Seekonk River and forming deep attachments to the Park in the process. Why not offer similar opportunities to people of all ages!
The committee of several people experienced in working with children and led by educator Chair Rick Richards has accomplished much in less than a year. Consulting with experts ranging from the City Forester Doug Still to Audubon teachers, they have designed ambitious plans for monthly trailwalks as well as events for families and small children. So far the BPC has held three trailwalks and plans three more.
Most children today, and many of their parents, have less exposure to nature than their grandparents did. Some adults worry about the implications of this loss for the childrens’ well-being, including their ability to learn. And they wonder who will provide stewardship for natural areas in the future.
Considerable research on early childhood development shows that children learn naturally through exploring and experimenting. According to committee member and developmental psychologist Elisa Vele-Tabaddor, “the narrow focus on academics in our culture is limiting opportunities for children to learn outside the classroom and develop their creativity and ‘naturalistic’ intelligence.”
In a city with relatively few wooded areas, Blackstone Park Conservation District is an important resource. “The BPC events,” says Dr. Vele-Tabaddor, “offer children a variety of experiences to interact with their natural environment and build their knowledge base in multiple domains. Bringing children into the parks for family-friendly, fun events prepares our youngest citizens for success both in the classroom and in life.”
This summer, parents eager to find activities to engage their vacationing wards jumped at the BPC events for small children. Dozens of children sang and danced to musical storyteller Lindsay Meehan’s guitar under the trees in the field opposite Narragansett Boat Club on River Road. On the summer solstice, the BPC marked the pending full moon with its first fairy house workshop. About 60 parents and small children turned up.
The audience listened raptly as kindergarten teacher Nadine DiStefano described fairies, the “caregivers and healers” of nature. She explained that fairies are shy and generally can’t be seen—“when you are in the woods and a leaf moves without wind, it’s a fairy.” Asked if they’d ever seen a fairy, two children raised their hands.
Children crouched down in front of a piece of driftwood to closely five miniature houses created by resident artist Elena Riverstone. Helped by meticulously organized retired kindergarten teacher Suzanne Renfro and others, they selected building materials from a table with trays of bark, acorns, fronds, pieces of slate, feathers, flowers, etc. Each child received a blob of play dough, a flat cardboard cutout designed to be folded it into a three-dimensional house, and tape. Then they spread out to waiting worktables to work their own magic.
Alongside the Providence Parks Department, the BPC has found that working toward Healthy Urban Green Space for All can be fun.