Outdoor school program goes online for e-learning

Vermilion County

VERMILION COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) — By this time of year, the Vermilion County Conservation District (VCCD) would normally be hosting 4th and 5th graders at their parks for their outdoor school program.

“Every single school that has been scheduled so far has been missing out on that,” said Lara Danzl, VCCD Education Supervisor. “Since schools are closed, they’re not able to come out here and have their outdoor school experience.”

“Absolutely, we miss having the school kids out here for outdoor school,” she added. “Last April, we had a lot of snow and this April has been a warm and beautiful Spring. There are wildflowers growing, there are turtles, frogs, and snakes. There are so many things that kids could see here.”

Since her students have to study at home for their online classes, Danzl is now recording her outdoor lessons and sharing them on social media.

“We’re trying to share resources and education materials on our Facebook page just so we could have a little connection with them,” she said.

“First one I did was on skunk cabbage,” Danzl said, “which is one of our first flowering plants, that was coming up and out of the ground in February.”

“Inside is where the flowers are,” she said in the video. “They do not have petals so they’re not flashy or showy but it does attract our early pollinators of flies and gnats, bees and also carrion beetles. Because as you can imagine that name skunk cabbage, it does have a skunk-like odor that emits from the flower, and from the leaves when you crush them.”

The inside of a skunk flower, as shown on one of Lara Danzl’s video lessons.

Danzl said “people loved” the first video.

“Then, we did a crafting project we did at our summer camp, where we repurposed a glass jar into a decorative vase by using glue and tissue paper,” she said. “There’s a lot of parents home with their children, and this is a simple crafting project they can do with things around the house without going out and buying anything.

They’ve also posted games to their social media page, including a backyard scavenger hunt and a sensory hunt. “There’s a nature bingo game coming later this week,” Danzl said. She’s also planning on doing a video about wildflowers, birds, and trees that are starting to flower out.

“Since a lot of people are at home,” Danzl said, “I’d like to put together an article on how to become a ‘backyard birder’ so they can identity birds in their backyard.”

Her most recent video showcased a few salamanders they found at Kennekuk County Park, “one of my favorite animals that I love to find whenever we have school kids come visit us on our field trips.”

“The one that is reddish is our red-backed salamander,” Danzl said in the video. “There are two more there that are also red-backed salamanders, but they’re in what we call a ‘lead-back’ stage of their life where they have more of a grayish background. This yellow one is what we call a southern two-lined salamander.”

“Both of these species of salamander need to stay where it is wet, so they prefer to live in streams, underneath logs, underneath leaf litter, so that way their skin can stay moist.”

Since she began posting the videos last month, Danzl said, “I’ve had parents tell me they showed it to their kids and they loved it.

“What I am going to do is collect our education materials and put it in one newsletter format, and I’ll send that out to all the teachers I have in my contacts. That way, our teachers can share it with their students for e-learning.”

Danzl invited local teachers who are not on her email list to contact the district to access those resources.

“It doesn’t cost anything to send an email,” she said. “We’re trying to still get them to connect with nature even though they’re not able to come to the park.”

Vermilion County Conservation District
(217) 442 – 1691

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