Kid types

October 20th, 2010 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan

The mere thought of actually writing a blog entry w/ pen & paper started to make my hand cramp up. Granted, I have all the signs of early on-set arthritis from years spent farming & gardening for a living (using mostly hand-tools), but even still, this anxiety over the written word is pathetic! And I’ve only been typing on a keyboard consistently since college, about 10 years. It makes me think about the kids I had the chance to hang out w/ today during a Plants 201 fieldtrip.

They were 3rd graders, about 10 years old, from W. Woodland Elementary, and they were a lot of fun. Their excitement to be on a fieldtrip was palpable & contagious & I had a few moments to bathe in it (and the spectacular October sun) while mentally preparing for the ensuing adventure. This Marked my 2nd time leading P201 & so I had an idea of how I wanted it to go, but every group is so different, and I think the last group I was working with was a group of homeschoolers – a completely different animal.

Overall, the program went great. They were a sharp bunch w/ lots of energy/curiosity, the chaperones they came with were engaged and helpful, and represented in this group of 16 there were what I call ‘kid types’ (and what the PhD’s call “learning styles”) from across the board. There were the quiet kids who seem to get it, and the quiet kids who don’t get it at all but who hang in there by reading the social cues; there were the know-it-all kids who do in fact know it all, but who aren’t quite literate in those social cues; there were a few spark plugs (that remind me of my wife), who just need to be entertained (or entertaining) at all times and they’re good; there were a couple too-cool-for-school kids (that remind me of myself) who are into what’s going on, but trying not to show it; etc.

I just overheard a woman behind me (early middle-aged) say, “…oh, you’re not a Facebooker are you…”, and that brings me back to my point. Those kids today have grown up w/ computer keyboards & are most likely far more adept w/ all things computer related, perhaps even typing, than myself. Does this increased exposure to the technological world necessarily result in a decreased understanding of the natural one? Richard Louv might call this a characteristic symptom of “Nature Deficit Disorder”. But what does this mean to a kid on a fieldtrip to a place like the Arboretum, or any “natural” space for that matter? Should we even be trying to teach these kids anything during their 1.5 hour respite from modern life or would they be better off simply having time to explore this strange environment?

This is all merely philosophical musings in this day & age. Pens & paper aren’t yet just archaic relics making up an antiquor’s inventory, and kids aren’t so far removed from tree bark & dirt to be completely enthralled by them w/out some trickery on the environmental educator’s part, but some day… And for some kids that day will be sooner than others. Seattle kids have the natural world at their fingertips (like keyboards), but have you ever seen a picture of a New Delhi slum, downtown Mexico City, Detroit! Kids from these places probably feel like extra terrestrials in an arboretum.

So if you take anything from this rant, just remember to remember that there are all kinds of kid-types when you’re writing/typing up your next fieldtrip curriculum, and do your best to include stuff that will appeal to them all.