Vlad BG

July 20th, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan








We woke early, after what felt like the best night’s sleep I’d had in years.  Evenings in Vlad are on the cool side, perfect for sleeping.  After a rather strange breakfast of buttery succotash pasta, a fried chicken leg, and fried egg, we headed over to the botanical garden to have a look around and tag along on a series of tours lined up in honor of “Environmental Education Week”.

1st impressions:  The main building looms behind a large metal gate with a turnstile (yes, unlike us, they have a gate and fence and charge admission).  The 4-story tan brick building topped with an assortment of HVAC equipment and antenna resembles a TV station or hospital, and is more than just a little intimidating.  But outside waiting for us was a familiar face, Valya, one of the three women who had visited Seattle last Sept., and with her she had her newborn son, Vladislav (did I mention we are in Russia?).  Any apprehension I felt dissolved at once.  We were taken inside and greeted by their young and charismatic director, Pavol Krestov.  He studied in BC, and speaks very good English.  After some brief niceties, it was time to get to work.  There were 3 tours scheduled, and the first one was to start momentarily.  It should be noted that these tours did not exist before Albina, Valya, and Nadya’s visit to Seattle last fall.








The first group was composed of about 40 kids ranging in age from 6 – 16.  They were part of a program that aims to help children deal with abusive home lives.  This was not just some softball group lofted over the plate to make their program look good to us visiting Americans, this was a challenging population by any standard.  Shockingly, Pavol himself welcomed the group and kicked off the tour by jumping right into a discussion about the sun as the source of all energy and plants’ ability to photosynthesize.  No introductions, no ice-breakers, none of it – straight into lecture.  It was clear from the get go that they do things a little differently around here.  After the intro, the group was divided into 2 smaller groups (one younger, one older) and the lecture continued.  Tony and I went with the older group.  Olga led the first part that took place in the greenhouse, short Katya picked it up from there with a tour of the display gardens, and Valya wrapped things up with a few games.  If it sounds like this program was all over the place, that’s because it was.  And while my overall impression was “information overload”, it did give us a good chance to see the garden!

The layout is very different from UWBG.  The place is jam packed full of plants, organized by genus with a focus on pretty annuals.  The plants themselves are arranged in rows giving it the feel of a nursery or even a farm.  Indeed, there is even a small chicken coup housing some spectacularly colored varieties that lends to this feeling of being on a farm.  Not all of the garden is arranged in this way, there are some very well designed beds that feature a wide variety of plants, perennials and annuals alike, but we spent much of our time during 2 of the 3 tours in the ornamental section.  The 3rd tour was in the wooded area that makes up about 80% of Vlad BG’s grounds.  It’s a beautiful mixed forest populated by birch, oak, fir and pine.  The understory features a handful of fern species, several deciduous shrubs (Ribes among them), a few berry bushes and various ground huggers.












The tours were well recieved by the public and it was great to see so many people show up despite the enormously inhibitive road construction going on outside the gates.  It was also great to see so many different guides leading these tours, speaking to the strong sense of teamwork the education program promotes.  They may not have much in terms of resources to work with or financial support, but what they do have going for them is their people…in this way, our two organizations are very much alike.  The tours ended around 5pm.  We dined at a nearby Armenian restaurant and spent the rest of the evening/night prepping for tomorrow’s big event – a regional EE Conference organized by Vlad BG to be held at the Institute of Marine Biology.  It was a pretty big deal, and we were the main event.  The look of anxiety Nadya wore on her face said it all – don’t blow it.

From Russia with Love

July 19th, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan

Greetings from Vladivostok, Russia!  Our visit here is the second step in an environmental education exchange with the Vladivostok Botanic Gardens (Vlad BG) that began last September when a small team of educator/botanists came to Seattle to learn all they could about EE.  They spent much of their time at the Washington Park Arboretum (WPA) learning about our various programs and taking part in our Saplings Guide fall training.  Our small team is comprised of Sally Kentch, of the Mountains to Sound Greenway, me of the UWBG, and Tony Allison who splits his time between both organizations.


After spending almost 36 hours in transit, crossing the international date line and traveling into the future, it was nice to reach terra firma.  We were greeted by our hosts, welcomed by some familiar faces, and whisked away to our new home away from home.  En route, we quickly learned first hand that Vlad is in the process of preparing for the 2012 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Conference, and the whole place is under construction, including a 60 miles stretch of highway leading into the city.  I had never seen a 6-lane gravel/dirt highway, but there it was.  Like Seatac, the airport is located well outside the city, so we had about an hour in the van before reaching our hotel located directly across the road from Vlad BG.

En route, we stopped by the post office to register (Russia likes to keep meticulous tabs on all foreign visitors) and began to acclimate.  I was comforted to see so many familiar trees and plants, and very pleased to see so many garden plots lining the red-brick and grey-concrete apartment buildings.  The most prevalent crop?  You guessed it, POTATOES!

Our accommodations were nothing to write home about, but compared to a bench in the Bejing airport, it might as well have been the Ritz.  And at $20/night, we were stretching the generous grant funding from our benefactor to the fullest.  We freshened up, caught much needed power naps on perfectly firm beds, and then it was off to a welcome dinner at a nearby restaurant hosted by Vlad BG’s EE staff – a small group of mostly 20-somethings with high-hopes for the future and fountains of passion and determination.  They were very excited to meet us and have a chance to practice their English.  Sally and I don’t speak a lick of Russian, but fortunately Tony is fluent.  We found out just how fluent during a 20 minute toast expressing our appreciation to our young hosts and our commitment to helping them in any way that we could.  It turns out that toasting is a big part of Russian culture, and Tony’s was just the beginning.  After we’d all had a chance to say piece, and fill our stomachs, we parted ways until tomorrow when we would tag along on and evaluate 3 different tours at Vlad BG.  We hit the bed hard that and slept like little Russian babies. 

Discover Hidden Water-ways on a Kayak Tour of the Arboretum

July 13th, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan
Kayaking at the Arboretum

Discover Hidden Water-ways on a Guided Kayak Tour of the Washington Park Arboretum The UWBG is unique among other botanic gardens in the country in that our "grounds" include quite a bit of water. Owing to our location around Lake Washington, our approximately 300 acres include the longest stretch of freshwater marsh in Washington State. There is no better way to enjoy this wetland ecosystem than by kayak. The Agua Verde Paddle Club in partnership with the UWBG is pleased to offer guided kayak tours of our Foster Island Wetlands to the public for the third consecutive summer. Tours are approximately 90 minutes in length and push off from "Duck Bay" at the north end of the Washington Park Arboretum. During the tour you will learn a little about the history of the area and have a chance to meet some of our plant and animal residents. All proceeds will go from Agua Verde Paddle Club to the UWBG for the Agua Verde Scholarship fund. This fund will help provide educational opportunities to students and schools with limited resources. No experience necessary. Double kayaks, safety equipment and a brief training session will be provided by Agua Verde Paddle Club. Youth & children under the age of 18 must be accompanied by their parent/guardian. Tour Dates & Times Wednesday, Aug. 29th: 11am & 3pm Thursday, Aug. 30th: 11am & 3pm Wednesday, Sept. 5th: 11am & 3pm Thursday, Sept. 6th: 11am & 3pm Friday, Sept. 7th: 7am ("early birders"), 11am & 3pm Cost & Registration: Space is limited to 12 participants per tour, so pre-registration is required. Cost: $30/person; ($5 discount for early registration before August 1st) To register, CLICK HERE

Arboretum Summer Camp!

May 20th, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan

Summer is coming. Summer is coming. Summer is coming! I’ve had to repeat this reassuring mantra more than usual this spring, but it’s true, I promise, summer is indeed just around the corner. This is especially exciting for us in the WPA Education Program because it means SUMMER CAMPS! We’ve partnered with other organizations in the past to hold summer camps, but this year we’re taking complete control and we couldn’t be happier about it. Having control means we choose the dates, times, themes, activities, size and most importantly the Summer Camp Guides. We put out the call and were overwhelmed by the response, and now after some difficult decisions we’re thrilled to introduce our summer camp team of top-notch environmental educators:

Sarah Short: Sarah is our fearless leader who will be overseeing our Summer Camps this year. She’s a Seattle native who received her B.A. in Human Ecology at College of the Atlantic in Maine where she realized that her love of nature and science could best be used in teaching others. Sarah returned to Seattle, her one and only true home, to attend IslandWood and the UW. She will be receiving her M.Ed. in Science Education this June. Sarah loves coming up with fun and interesting ways to connect people to science and nature – that’s one of the many reasons she’s so excited about Arboretum Summer Camps!

Rachel Nagorsky: Rachel comes to us via the University of British Colombia, and IslandWood. She will be pursuing her M.Ed. from UW in the fall. Rachel has worked with kids of all ages from kindergarten to high school both here and in Canada, sharing her love of mountains and nature. When she’s not in class learning about teaching or in the field actually teaching, Rachel is a nanny and volunteer at Seattle Tilth’s children’s garden – she just can’t seem to get enough. She’s bubbly and bright and her “bag of tricks” is filled to the brim. She looks forward to putting those tricks to good use this summer at the Arboretum and we look forward to her infectious excitement.


Gabriel Finkelstein: Gabe is an outdoor and environmental educator who loves exploring the natural world any way he can – by bike, foot, kayak or ski. He has spent the last 8 years providing outdoor learning opportunities for youth that engage their natural curiosities and interests. He holds a B.A. in Education from College of the Atlantic in Maine where he was active in programs
that worked to get public school students outdoors and involved with their natural surroundings. He’s fascinated by the interconnections between humans and the environment and loves sharing this fascination with children.

Kathie Branford: Kathie is a transplant from California where she grew up spending summers attending and eventually working at camps set in the redwoods near Yosemite Valley. She received her B.S. in Biology from Brigham Young University and is currently perusing a M.A. in Science Teaching from UW in conjunction with the IslandWood Graduate Program. Aside from summer camps, Kathie has worked at natural history museums teaching students about animals, and environmental consulting firm teaching businesses about water conservation. She also studied abroad in Paris where she fell in love with the French language and the French cuisine. Her favorite book is “The Count of Monte Cristo”, and her favorite tree is the Western Hemlock.

click here to learn more about WPA Summer Camps

Super Fun Summer Camp at the Arboretum

May 18th, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan
summer camp photograph

Kids planting a garden at summer camp

Summer camp at the Washington Park Arboretum takes place in July this year.

  • Week 1: Native Plants and People (July 11 – 15)
  • Week 2: Little Green Thumbs (July 18 – 22)
  • Week 3: Arboretum Detectives (July 25 – 29)

Read the full theme descriptions and learn how to register at the Summer Programs page.

Family Fun Day May 22, 2011 gives a taste of what summer camp holds.

Fauna (and flora!) of UWBG

March 3rd, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan

I continue to be surprised by the life that abounds in our gem located at the heart of the Emerald City. Yesterday, while walking between/through our sites (WPA -> UBNA -> CUH), I counted no less than 27 Great Blue Herons hunkered down in the cattails seeking shelter from the lion-like March weather. In addition to these easily recognized wading birds, I saw and heard a plethora of others that reminded me of my new year’s resolution to learn more birds.

In the past couple weeks the Arboretum has garnered quite a bit of press for the biodiversity it houses. The focus of our first 15 minutes of fame was an incredibly chubby and somewhat groggy beaver that came strolling up from the Foster Island wetland area and into some shrubs near our entrance gate. If you missed the video footage I caught of “Foster”, you can check it out here. Last time I checked it had gotten 1800 hits on Youtube!

The next 15 minutes came indirectly from Rod Crawford’s discovery of a potentially new species of spider that he found during last spring’s Bioblitz 2010 event held here at the Arboretum. Here’s a link to the PI’s article; and another to the Crosscut article by Knute Berger. And below is a picture of our eight-legged neighbor. I am currently recruiting high school students and anyone else interested in helping us find more specimens for a “hunt” in late April to Early June.

My initial reaction to all this attention directed our way on account of our resident fauna was to wonder when we might get a little attention for the 10,000+ plant specimens that make up our world-renowned collection. We are, after all, the official Arboretum for the state of Washington.

But then I remembered what I often tell kids during our fieldtrip programs: “…when you plant a tree, you’re not just planting a tree, you’re planting an oxygen factory, an erosion preventer, a home for a squirrel or bird or colony of insects, a backrest, a poem, a painting, a friend; you’re planting the foundation of an ecosystem upon which all life depends – including us.” So in that way, any attention given to the furry or creeping critters that call this place home is attention to the trees and plants too – long may they live so that the rest of us may as well.

GBH hunkered down near UBNA

I witnessed this rainbow walking through MOHAI between WPA & CUH

Sign up for Summer Camp

February 15th, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan

Summer campers photoJoin us for summer time fun, adventure and environmental education at our themed summer camps. Find out how you can become an ethnobotanist, urban farmer or a field biologist.

Register for Summer Camp today!

Food Security Conference

December 8th, 2010 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan

I had the privilege of attending some of the Regional Food Security Conference this past weekend at CUH, and wanted to share what I learned…

The plenary session Sunday morning was a joint effort by 3 presenters who each provided unique perspectives into successful small scale regional farming projects happening around the world. The one that stood out for me was presented by Travis English, a UW MA candidate, who spoke of the Tumaini Women’s Group in Kenya whose members are comprised of 20+ elderly widows. The youngest of these women farmers is Florence at 72 years old. The HIV/AIDS epidemic so prevalent in much of Africa not only claimed these women’s husbands, but many of their children as well leaving them to care for 70+ orphaned grandchildren. Yet despite these hardships, with the help of a progressive organization named Grow BioIntensive Agricultural Centre of Kenya, or GBIACK, these women have been able to lift themselves up out of poverty and become completely self-reliant. It was an inspiring story that makes the obstacles of creating our own sustainable regional food system seem trivial and easily overcome.

The conference proceeded to split up into smaller groups to focus on a variety of food security related topics. I set up shop in Douglas Classroom where our very own Katie Murphy kicked things off to a standing-room only crowd. I was familiar with Katie’s research from a public speaking class we had together almost 2 years ago. Katie, in addition to running the Herbarium, has spent these past two years taking a simple idea and shaping it into a full blown cutting edge research project that takes a hard look at an often over-looked gardening spot, the parking strip. We drive past them and walk over them every day, but could these mundane omnipresent features of our urban environment be better used to grow food? A lot of Seattleites think so and are already growing vegetable gardens in these places, but should they be? Who knows where these soils have been or what heavy metals they may have been hanging out with for the last 100 years? These are the questions that Katie’s research aims to answer through careful and thorough scientific investigation. You’ll have to wait for Katie’s finished paper to get the whole story, but at least from her preliminary results, there is about 190 acres of prime real estate in northwest Seattle ripe for an urban agricultural revival.

The next speaker to present was Steve Jones a plant breeder and the director of The Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center of WSU. Steve is a wheat guy who has been researching and growing wheat for 30+ years. While the first 2/3 of his career was spent testing and growing wheat varieties for use in conventional farming, he’s spent the last 10 years advocating the value and viability of decentralized wheat growing systems. His shift in values seemed based on what to him is a stupefying reality – that the price of wheat is determined not by farmers, bakers or buyers but by traders, lenders and bureaucrats, people who wear ties & suits not coveralls & boots. Most of the wheat that we grow in this country is consumed in China, and most of it is grown from the exact same kind of proprietised genetically modified seed. States like Maine and Vermont and Iowa that once boasted thriving wheat harvests now grow nary a chafe.

But Steve was hopeful because of a recent resurgence of the small wheat farmer and a budding cottage industry based on artisan breads and beers made from local wheat varieties with unique characteristics. One thing that Steve said that stuck with me was his description of the people who make up this movement and the audiences of wheat growing workshops. These people are young, they are interested and they are interesting. It was refreshing to see this same demographic description reflected in the attendees of this food security conference, and indeed in the presenters themselves…

Andrew Corbin also of WSU, was the final presenter in Douglas before lunch, and to look at him and hear him speak he would seem just as natural strumming a six-string around a campfire on the beach as standing in front of a classroom lecturing, maybe more so. Andrew and his colleagues have recently been examining the age old farming question, “to till or not to till”. Since the invention of the iron plow some 2500 years ago, the answer has been “till”. But conventional farming’s methods and industrial efficiency has taken it’s toll on our planets breadbaskets and resulted in increasingly stratified soil profiles that make life hard for root systems. Over time, the soil layer immediately below the reach of the plow becomes an impenetrable hardpan. Steve’s research has shown the advantages of planting cover crops and then crimping them rather than turning them under. This rather low-tech method not only produces higher yields while fixing nitrogen but works as a weed barrier, earthworm haven and lid to keep CO2 from entering the atmosphere. Steve’s trials use a tractor powered crimper, but I have a small-scale farmer friend in CA who does it with simple hand tools…an approach easily adapted for the baker growing his/her specialty wheat in their parking strip.

For more on the conference: http://depts.washington.edu/uwbg/news/food-security/

And for an incredible Ted Talk from an 11 yr old on our food system:  http://www.ted.com/talks/birke_baehr_what_s_wrong_with_our_food_system.html?utm_source=newsletter_weekly_2010-12-07&utm_campaign=newsletter_weekly&utm_medium=email

Bioblitz: Mushroom Edition re-cap

November 5th, 2010 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan

Last spring, the University of Washington Botanic Gardens hosted a bioblitz to take a stab at identifying the myriad organisms for which Washington Park Arboretum is home.  Last week, we continued this effort but with a focus on fungus.  During Bioblitz: Mushroom Edition, Puget Sound Mycological Society members teamed up with over 60 citizen scientists for a full day of mushroom hunting that by sundown netted approximately 500 specimens.

The folks from PSMS had been with us in the spring for the all-taxa bioblitz, and had expressed a desire to come back in the fall during prime mushroom season.  The mushroom people I’ve met in Seattle are like that – deeply passionate, and genuinely enamored with their quarry.  As for the 60 more or less random people that showed up on this predictably drizzle October day, they were almost as diverse as the mushrooms that were collected.  (I say almost because everyone smelled pretty good; the same cannot be said for the mushrooms.)  But what is it about mushrooms that so captures our collective curiosity?  It’s a difficult question to answer because the answer differs depending on who you ask.

I participated in all three of the 2-hour hunts, and attended Marian Maxwell’s presentation on “The Role of Mushrooms in the Ecosystem”, and so I had the chance to mingle with a good number of attendees.  I hunted briefly in the afternoon with Alex, a recent transplant from California where he worked as an environmental educator – a man after my own heart.  Alex likes the way mushrooms force one to slow down and really look at one’s surroundings, even under one’s surroundings.  He used to do this on hikes with kids in California.  I’ve done this with fieldtrip groups at the arboretum, and I can verify the mesmerizing power of fungi.  Alex and I agreed that anything with the power to keep a group of 4th graders captivated for any real span of time borders on miraculous.

That being said, often times kids make the best mushroom hunters.  The Allgood family, with their two young daughters, joined us for much of the day (including the lecture), and contributed dozens of carefully collected specimens to our total.  The Allgoods are avid P-patchers who believe that the healthiest food is the food you grow yourself.   The desire to learn more about a potentially free, natural and local food source is what brought them out.

With the “eat local” movement gaining momentum and food security conversations becoming household, being able to forage for ones food is in vogue and mushrooms are poster children, and why not.  They’re abundant, extremely varied, the right ones are delicious, and you’re simply harvesting a fruit much like any other (but without the maintenance), so there’s no harm done. The trick of course is finding the right ones.

The edibility and lure of foraging for ones food was a common tie among many who came out.  Colin, a UW freshman only months into his college experience, is already tiring of “dorm food”.  While the Arboretum cannot be considered a place to go harvesting ‘shaggy parasols’ (it’s illegal to take anything out of this Seattle treasure), Colin was very pleased to rescue the handful we collected from their immanent fate in the compost pile and eager to get out into the mountains to find his own secret spot.

That’s what my wife likes about mushroom hunting – the hunting part.  The idea of going home with something tasty to eat is secondary to the thrill of the hunt.  Having a mission to focus on helps to quiet her ADD brain and allows for a much more enjoyable hike with a husband who is perfectly happy wandering aimlessly through the woods.  This example speaks to an indirect medicinal property that mushrooms hold, but there are some mushrooms such as the Agarikon (Fomitopsis officinalis), which only grows on old growth, that are being researched by pharmaceutical companies for their anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and possibly anti-cancer properties.

Of course there are others who are less interested in the potential for mushrooms to heal the body and more interested in the potential for mushrooms to heal the mind.  David, who I met during the morning hunt, though “out there” by conventional standards, is a deeply spiritual man who loves everything about mushrooms, including the ability of some to alter reality.  The hallucinogenic properties of mushrooms are well known and well documented in cultures around the world.  In many of these cultures, only the most revered members of the society – the shamans, medicine men and mystics are allowed to meddle with these powerful substances.  After all, these seemingly innocuous forest dwellers can kill you and every year even experienced mycologists die from eating mushrooms they believed to be safe.

Marian touched on the toxicology of some mushrooms during her talk, describing it as a self-defense mechanism and a way for one mushroom species to stake out turf over another.  Often times, but not always, these mushrooms with toxic properties are categorized as parasites – the potentially harmful group that steals nutrients from host plants weakening and eventually killing them.  Unfortunately, an example of this group, the Honey Mushroom (Armillaria mellea), was found living on some of our trees.  But that’s part of why we do these bioblitzes, to better know our 230 acres and how to manage them.

Marian also talked about a group of mushrooms called symbionts.  These are mutualists that actually benefit their associated host.  Examples include some of the more highly sought after mushrooms such as chanterelles and truffles.  This group is extremely difficult to cultivate because the symbiotic relationship between tree and mushroom takes several decades to form.  Once formed, however, the mushroom benefits by obtaining some of the sugars produced by the tree, and the tree benefits because the intricate mycelial network inhabiting the root zone greatly expands the trees ability to take in water and nutrients (as well as fight off potentially harmful diseases).

I envision roots wrapped in wooly sweaters wicking in the good stuff and keeping out the bad.  The really cool part is that specific mushrooms are associated with specific trees, and so once the relationship is established you can go back to the same tree year after year and expect to find the same type of mushroom.  This is dependent of course on time of year, weather conditions, and assuming you’ve gotten there first!  I think this is what I really like about mushrooms – they so beautifully illustrate the interconnected nature of nature.  If you know the tree you’re looking at, you’ll know what mushroom to look for, and maybe even what kind of bird or other critter to expect nearby.  A balanced forest ecosystem is like a well choreographed dance, each dance playing an indispensible role and strengthening the overall composition.

The third group of mushrooms that Marian talked about was the saprophytes.  These are the forest recyclers that obtain their nutrients by breaking down decaying matter.  By doing so, these nutrients are made available to be taken up and used again.  This group was by far the best represented of what we found owing to the time of year and abundance of decaying matter (fallen leaves and mulch).  Because of this, there are already murmurs among our PSMS partners to come again next year, but a little earlier in the season in hopes of finding different species.  So stay tuned, and regardless of what it is about mushrooms that tickles your fancy, come join us next time and take part in this ongoing citizen science experiment to see what we can find living in this wonderland of urban nature that is the Washington Park Arboretum.

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.