Splashing through mud puddles, catching frogs in a pond, tasting the sweetness of maple sap straight from the tree: such moments can be the basis of life-long, happy memories. In our increasingly urbanized society, however, many children never get the opportunity to experience the simple joys that time spent immersed in nature can bring. Through the Early Childhood Education Urban Outreach Program, a unique partnership with two Milwaukee schools, Malaika Early Learning Center and Next Door Milwaukee, Schlitz Audubon is seeking to change this paradigm by providing up to 150 children each year with recurrent, once-monthly nature education experiences.
Since 2003, Schlitz Audubon has featured an on-site preschool to encourage children to become comfortable in nature at an early age, which helps build lifelong connections with the environment. It’s important to us that these critical programs are available to all students, especially children from economically challenged neighborhoods. Thanks to tremendous support from the donor community, the Urban Outreach Program was started in 2008 to help bridge this gap. Today, thanks to funders like the Herzfeld Foundation and Bader Philanthropies, the program is celebrating 15 years of serving the most vulnerable children in our community.
How the Urban Outreach Program Works
The Urban Outreach Program is a two-pronged model through which students enjoy free monthly field trip visits to the Center during the school year, as well as regular visits from a Schlitz Audubon Early Childhood Educator right in their classrooms. Animal Ambassadors, such as Boxy, an eastern box turtle, or Severus, a western fox snake, also frequently visit with students. Onsite, our nature-focused curriculum includes outdoor discovery of Schlitz Audubon Nature Center’s diverse habitats, nature science exploration, beginning STEM concepts, dramatic play, and more.
In January, students are treated to what may be the best program of the year, when the Center’s raptor team presents a special program featuring our birds of prey: think Otis the majestic Peregrine Falcon, or Willow the Saw-whet Owl, a pint-sized way to inspire environmentalism in any young heart.
Connecting to the Natural World
Beyond these structured activities, perhaps the most impactful part of our program is simply exposing children to the natural world and giving them opportunities to develop their own personal connections to nature. Onsite at Schlitz Audubon, maximum emphasis is placed on learning opportunities that can be facilitated outdoors, based upon tremendous positive feedback from students and teachers. Here students learn in the best possible way – they climb on logs, search for insects, dig for worms, hike the trails, splash in puddles, and play in the snow. They begin to develop a sense of place, an understanding of how the world around them works, and what we hope to be a lifelong love of nature sparked by happy memories.