Hey everybody!

Well, I’m smack dab in the middle of training right now. I’ve got a new very temporary (six weeks only) job for the summer before I move onto something a touch more long term (a year or so), and of course… training. Twelve hours a day, every day, for over a week.

So I picked a crappy time to go ahead and start a blog, didn’t I?



In return, I’m going to toss a quick goofy story at you. This is an excerpt from a “camp journal” I made for my job a year or so ago. I’m not going to edit it really because well… It’s 11:32PM on this coast and I’m pretty sure I have to be up a 5AM tomorrow.


So… cheers.



Background: We did a lot of Pond Studies, which amounted to bringing the kids to the pond, giving them nets, telling them to catch as much cool stuff as they could, and then Mr. Chris teaching about everything on the fly. A lot of info to go through, but also my absolute favorite program we did because I liked insects. And we caught a lot of insects.

Today I had one of those classic “welcome to my life” moments. I started out the Pond like I always do, talking about what makes up a pond and what lives in a pond. So of course the first thing I always do is ask what the kids know about ponds. And lo and behold, I got the answer of the day, “It starts with the letter ‘P’”. I took it all in stride and said “yes! Yes, that is important! If you didn’t have the ‘P’, you’d just have an ‘ond’ and that’s just ridiculous” as I wrote it on the board. I carried on and another joker said “Oh, it ends in ‘D’!” I wrote that one too and followed it with, “And whoever says ‘O’ and ‘N’ are in the middle is going into the pond today, alright?” I overheard someone say it later but it was just quiet enough for me to not know who it came from. Because they would have been in the pond.

Although honestly, it was alright. When we walked to the pond and got to the pond they behaved wonderfully. They were friendly, talkative, laughed a lot and it was great. They just weren’t the ‘classroom setting’ type of learning style. And I realized that so I adapted my strategy accordingly. Any other group I wouldn’t have written “The first letter is ‘P’” and I wouldn’t have played into it when I had the following exchange:

“Give me anything about the pond, random things!”


“You have pizza in your pond? I want to go wherever you live!”

“Yeah, it does. After I threw it in there.”

Any other group I might not have played into that. But I know how little these guys cared about the indoor bit because well… I don’t like it really either. It’s so much better to get there, get them in the field, and then talk about things. So I kind of took it really fast and silly with them and it worked out just fine.

OH, and I forgot. A word or two about my favorite group of ladies while they were at the Pond Study. I started talking about the fact that our pond was built to water cows at some point and the following exchange occurred:

“… they built it so their cows wouldn’t fall in the water and drown. That’s a lot of wasted hamburgers.”

*parents laugh*

“What, don’t you guys like hamburgers?”


“Well, guess what’s for lunch?”


“Yeah, Hamburgers! Lets hear it for hamburgers!”

*Quick Cheer*

“One more time! Hooray, Hamburgers!”

“Hooray, hamburgers!” and one voice “Hotdogs!”


“Yeah, I like hotdogs.”

“Well everybody knows hotdogs come from a tree.”


“What? You don’t believe me? I’ve got one back home, I just pick a hotdog off every night and I’m good.”

“Can I have a hotdog?”


“What about ketchup and mustard?”

“Those grow on bushes…”


Yep… I loved that group of gals. They were all crowded around me the entire time, trying to get as close as possible and stay right up front with me. It was kind of adorable. Okay, it was very adorable:

“Hey, hey Mr. Chris?”

“Yes, M’am?”

“You look like Zac Efron.”

“Oh, I do? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

“A good thing, just ask Jenny.” *laughter* “she’s the one in the pink jacket right behind you”.

And I discovered today (Wednesday) that she wasn’t the only one who thought I looked like Zac Efron. And frankly I have no idea who that is, so I googled it an I look absolutely nothing like Zac Efron aside from the face that we are both indeed males and far older than these fifth graders.


I mean, seriously guys. Does this picture look like Zac Efron?


Dreamer – A Fifth Grader and a Giant Squid

The white board isn’t decorated all that well…

It isn’t usually, I fully admit I’m no artist. Just a single word: POND, with the O turned into a little blue pond, surrounded with green reeds, a purple fish, and a little red stick figure with a fishing pole.The stick figured has a hat too. Red, of course.

Hey, I don’t have that many colors to work with.

The students sit in front of me, all decked out with rain gear, baseball caps, the boys mostly in camo, the girls mostly with those bright plasticy rain boots that may work puddle stomping in town, but aren’t going to be worth much when it comes to stomping through the pond.

“So, what do you think we might find at the pond?”

Snakes! Fish! Turtles! Mud! Salamanders! Water! Rocks! Ducks! Bugs! Crawdads! Leeches! Fish! Dragonflies! Turtles!

“Alright,” I say, writing down as many of their suggestions as I can remember. I usually cut them off when we start getting repeats, or when the answers start getting goofy. Goofy happens pretty quickly with fifth graders.

“Oh!” I hear someone say in the back.

I look up, and the little girl starts to talk. But she quickly stops, blushing ever so slightly. She covers her mouth apologetically, and raises her hand.

What can I say? I like when people actually raise their hands: “Yes?”

“Giant Squid.”

I cock an eyebrow, “are you sure?”

“Yep. Maybe…”

“Alright,” I look at the white board again, “let me ask you a question: where does a Giant Squid live?”

“The ocean.”

“Not ponds?”

“Sometimes?” she asks.

“Maybe they do, let’s think about this. What kind of water is in the ocean?”

The girl thinks deeply, tilts her head to the side, and begins to chew on her lip. Deep in thought.

Another student chimes in, “salt water!” She bonks herself in the head, the universal sign for ‘I totally knew that’. A glare is expressed, but the eager little boy just beams at me, completely unaware of the little girl behind him.

“Now what type of water is in the pond?” I ask, making sure to look at the girl.

“Not salt water… freshwater?” she says eagerly.

“Very good, so do you still think you might find a Giant Squid?” I smile, waiting for her to make the connection.



“Anything can happen.”

File:Kjempeblekksprut - Giant Squid.jpg

By NTNU Vitenskapsmuseet (Flickr: Kjempeblekksprut – Giant Squid) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Class Clowns

In working with kids, there are three constants in the universe:

  1. The weather will change at the absolute worst time,
  2. Somebody will find a new loophole that in your directions (it will likely be dangerous, messy, or completely counter-productive),
  3. There will be at least one class clown.

I’ve already identified the class clown in this group. Or clowns, rather. Three little boys in the back left corner. The short blonde one with the camo muck boots, one with the oversized Carhart and finally the boy who’s mom didn’t pack him anything but sweatpants and sweatshirts.

As we walk to the pond, these are the three little boys right on my tail for the entire mile. Going out of their way to break just about every rule I can give them. They don’t do anything outrageously bad, just a hundred little things that they all snicker at every single time.

It’s twenty minutes of constant:

“I said stay behind me, you don’t know where you’re going, do you?”

“Put the stick down. Yes, that stick. The one you’re holding.”

“No, I’ve never eaten squirrel.”

“No singing unless you dance to go along with it…”

“… okay, stop dancing.”

And then there’s that girl.

She’s on my heel too, but she’s quiet as a church mouse. She listens to the boys being loud and wild and trying to drive me insane, but doesn’t say anything. Even when a group of girls comes up and starts jockeying with the clowns for the right to walk next to me (I’m still unsure why its such an honor), she just stays back.

Never more than three steps back from all the drama and noise, but rarely adding in. Periodically she’ll look at me and smile with that ‘those guys are goofy’ expression. The only time she talks is when a friend of hers walks up to see what all that noise up front is about.

What I’m trying to say is that this girl is not a clown. I’m a clown, I know what one looks like. And she isn’t one.


So if she’s not a clown, that means she’s something else.

What else?

According to some of her teachers, she was quiet but very smart. Observant and good with her peers, but not the popular girl. Her classmates said similar things, in their own way.

“She’s nice. Really nice,” said one of her friends, without prompting, “and quiet. I’m not quiet. Why are you so quiet?” The girl shrugged, smiling. “Yeah, I’m not quiet. But she’s my friend.”

So from what I can tell, she was well… forgettable. Every teacher remembers the students that absolutely drive them nuts, or the ones that make them proud to be a teacher. And everybody remembers, at least vaguely, their best friend forever. Even the ones that weren’t forever.

So why write a journal about the forgettable girl?

Surprisingly, it’s not raining at the pond.

It will likely rain by the time we have to walk back to camp, but for the moment it just looks as if I should try and build an ark.

“Mr. Chris,” says the little girl, walking over to me, “I caught one.”

“A Giant Squid?” I ask.

“Yep,” she shows me her net, which contains something obviously not a Giant Squid, “or maybe not.”

“Maybe not,” I laugh, “you told me you were going to get me a Giant Squid. I want to see one by the time we leave.”

“What will you give me if I catch one?” she offers a shifty smile.

This catches me off guard, “Ummm… I’m I’ll buy you a coke.” The vending machine at camp might as well serve liquid gold for how the students always look at it.

“Really?” her eyes go wide.


“I don’t think I’m going to find one in the pond,” she says, dejected.

“How about this,” I say, “if you catch a Giant Squid anywhere. Any time in your life… I’ll buy you a coke.” Her eyes get wide again and a smile begins to form, “in fact, if you ever bring me a Giant Squid, I will buy you an entire coke machine.”

Her jaw practically falls into her net, “really? REALLY!?”

I smile and hold out my hand. She looks at it, takes it, and gives one firm shake, “remember, you promised,” and then saunters off to the pond.

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” ~ Albert Einstein

This is why I’ll remember her: She’s a dreamer.

She is the future.

I believe that everyone starts out with an inherent sense of exploration, a sense of learning, a sense of… dreaming, I guess.

Whether that takes shape in the people who seem to be born with a paintbrush in their hands, or those who’ll publish twenty books in their lifetime, or maybe those who want to know why that bird likes that particular bush, or ones that want to set foot on every continent.


Dreams of bigger and better things. Of new images they can create, words they can fashion into tales, or stories they can fill their lives with.

I know those who claim we have lost this sense of wonder, exploration, or whatever you want to call it. They say the internet, the TV, smartphones, video games, helicopter parents, or pop culture has suffocated that fire.

I disagree.

But I’m an optimist at heart. I believe that everyone has that sense, has that deep seeded desire for something more, for something else. Who hasn’t looked at the sky and said “I wonder how many stars are out there?” or popped on the Discovery Channel and mused “I wish I could see that in person.”

Kids are the most open with this. They admit these feelings, ask these questions, and try to take in everything they can.

Adults are afraid of those things. I’ve had science teachers take notes while I’m teaching, and I’ve had parents tell little Johnny to ask Mr. Chris a question for them. Why? Because they’re afraid of not knowing, they’re embarrassed to admit they don’t know as much as me.

I’m the opposite.

If I have a question, I have to ask. I have to know why? How? When? Where? I acknowledge there are things I don’t know, much like the students I teach. Because we all started out not knowing anything, and how else do we learn?

We ask.

That’s why I work with kids; Because they’re not worried. Why should they care if the dad next to them knows the difference between a Hellgrammite and a Leech? Does it matter that the Ph.D in Physics can’t catch a Salamander to save his life?

No, because they’re here to learn.

So why do the adults care?

I can’t answer that question, nor do I really want to. Because many people just cannot and do not understand this little girl. This little girl who, come Hell or high water, just knows she’s going to find a Giant Squid.

If only so Ranger Chris will buy her a coke machine.


Welcome to Educating in the Outdoors!

I’m Chris, and I’ll be your host for… well, as long as you feel like reading. Let’s not make this too serious of a commitment yet. I mean, working in one place for more than a year scare the living daylights out of me, so maybe I’m afraid of commitment.


Who are you?

I’m Chris. Come on guys, we just went over this.

What’s this about?

This is about what I do. I’m what you’d call an Outdoor Educator, or an Environmental Educator, or a Naturalist, or an Interpreter.

What does that mean?

There are a lot of terms for what I do, but the basis is the same: I teach people about the great outdoors. That can mean doing some in depth discussion of pond ecosystems and macro-invertebrates, taking people out on their very first canoe trip, or even just walking around in the woods and showing people what’s under that rotting stump over there.

Personally, I do more of the “camp style” education.  That means people come into my facility for a few days and a few overnights, and I’m teaching them a lot of things over the course of a few days. It’s not like working at a Zoo where you walk up to a person, say a few things, then move onto the next group (sometimes). Although I have done that sort of thing before.

Let me put it this way… have you ever been to a camp/zoo/nature center/park where there’s been that “nature guy” walking around?

Yep. Me.

Why are you blogging?

There are two reasons:

One  – I’ve been looking for a good blog on Environmental Education lately. A very specific type. One that has a lot of random education, some policy issues, and of course some ridiculous I-work-with-kids stories. And well… there are a lot of those for classroom teachers, but not so many for my field. So boom – here we are!

Two – To teach! My classroom may be the pond, woods, beach, or touch tank, but I’m still a teacher. And teaching is what I want to do. Whether it’s teaching a few cool facts, a few cool ideas, or just letting people know that this field is an option.


So once again, Welcome.

I’m not sure what’s going to happen here, but I’m happy you’ll be along for the ride. So grab a coffee, milk, beer, triple filtered organic water imported from France (actually not that one), and let’s learn a little!