Kids learn in so many ways

Janet in volunteer training workshop

Here is the perspective of Janet Pelletier, a Nature Program volunteer in Shrewsbury, VT:

I don’t have children, though I know kids in the community. Our Nature Program coordinator invited me to volunteer because she knew I’d love the training workshops. She was right, I do. I love the model of being together observing and experiencing. I purposely don’t read the material ahead because it’s so joyful to go to the training workshop and learn like the kids do. Then my questions emerge naturally just like the kids’, and I experience the discovery just as the kids experience it. Even listening to the puppet show for the first time. I love it because I get to watch kids have those moments. And the kids all love it. It fits every child’s needs. They are so curious and creative. They like being outside looking at things, drawing, the activities, and the quiet observation time.

Since I’m not a parent, when the kids see me in the hall they KNOW it’s a Four Winds day. I’m a volunteer with the kindergarten/first grade this year. And they’re really excited, like a buzz of anticipation in the hallway. Each time I’m blown away by how into it they get.

Like when we did the Seed Dispersal unit this fall. I’d sprouted some scarlet runner beans. We started by giving kids bean pods, and they found the pods and the seeds inside really fascinating, the colors and the textures. When they opened the seeds and saw the cotyledons inside they were even more excited. And then, when I brought out the sprouted beans, they actually squealed with delight! A whole plant is inside!

Or when we studied winter twigs. Who would have thought these young kids would be excited by them? But we started with the kids blindfolded and passed around the twigs for them to feel and smell, like the fuzzy sumac twig, the stinky cherry twig, and the wintergreen yellow birch. I think they liked the icky smell best, and they wanted to smell the cherry over and over. It’s so easy to be a volunteer because it’s all set up for you, and the kids love to learn this way.

When we introduced the opposite, alternate and whorled branching pattern, I had the kids hold their arms straight out, or in a V, or do a full twirl to act out the patterns. Then for each tree we visited outside, they’d act out the matching pattern sort of as a greeting to the tree. 

They don’t seem concerned about what other kids think. When we do drawing, they don’t have any self consciousness. I love that they are all such good learners. And because I’ve volunteered over the years at different grade levels, I’ve gotten to see how kids figure things out and learn in so many different ways.

The Joy of Nature

Ellen Bodin, Four Winds volunteer at Barstow Memorial School in Chittenden, playing with her grandson in the autumn leaves.

What’s a favorite story you have from volunteering with Four Winds?

I have two! In my earlier years doing The Nature Program, our class was down by East Creek at Barstow’s outdoor classroom. One of the children said she loves Four Winds because she loves being outside where she can hear the sound of the water. 

Last year we were studying leaves, and I brought in a mullein leaf from home so kids could experience how soft and fuzzy it is. This one little boy loved the feel of the mullein leaf so much, and kept rubbing it against his skin. He asked if he could take it home to his mom because he knew she’d love it, too. He had such a connection to leaves that day. 

Both of those stories really highlight the sensory experience of being outside. A lot of the time we’re using our sight, but here the children are really noticing sound and touch as well! 

How did you start volunteering with Four Winds?

I saw a piece in the newspaper asking for volunteers, and I responded because I was new to Vermont and wanted to get involved in the community. I had experience teaching and tutoring, and wanted to be involved with children, combining that with my love of nature. I just feel that the more children learn about nature, the more they love it, and the more they care for it. 

Four Winds seemed like a really great, multi-generational program to get kids outside. The Four Winds educator inspired me. She makes the trainings fun for volunteers and models really well what we will be doing in the classroom with the children. I’m in my 12th year now of volunteering, and I keep learning and keep seeing the joy when kids discover things about nature. 

2019 Photo Contest Results

The 2019 Four Winds Photo Contest results are in!

We received many wonderful photos for this year’s “Kids in Nature” photo contest, and our team of judges has selected their top choices!

It was difficult to choose just three photographs from the submissions, all of which illustrated creative and curious kids outdoors, investigating, playing, and adventuring.

Thank you for your submissions, and we hope to see you out enjoying nature with the children in your lives!

Grand Prize

Submitted by Erin Ruble

Second Place

Submitted by Tristan Von Duntz

Third Place

Submitted by Erin Ruble

2017 Photo Contest Results

Take a look!

Four Winds received over 240 photos for consideration in our 10th Anniversary Photo Contest in 2017. So many delightful, creative, and beautiful images!

Our judges had the fun challenge of considering and selecting winners for each category. (And, after lots of lively debate, the judges added a “Runner-up” award in three of the categories and a Very Special Mention, too.)

Thank you to generous and dear friends of Four Winds, who made a donation to provide awards to the winning contestants.