Arlington 4-H’s Environmental Programs Help Kids Explore Nature

by Caitlin Verdu

Here, 4-H Agent Caitlin Verdu provides a glimpse into the 4-H Outdoor Explorers program, which pairs volunteers with Extended Day staff to get children outside to enjoy nature. Interested in learning more? Attend a free information session on Tuesday, August 23 from 7–9 pm at Walter Reed Community Center or contact Caitlin directly (cverdu@vt.edu or 703-228-6404).

On a chilly April morning, the Arlington County Public Schools’ (APS) Extended Day staff huddled in a silent circle around an oak tree. For sixty seconds, the group scrutinized the branches. After the quiet minute, each participant shared something they had observed:

  • I think I see a bird’s nest.
  • The tree is so tall; I bet it is very old.
  • There is a little plant growing at the base of the trunk.
  • Many of the branches are broken, so it’s probably been in some strong storms.

I explained that this was our Meeting Tree. If we had multiple sessions, we would return to this tree to find differences throughout the seasons. We would search for wildlife, plant seeds, mimic animal adaptations, play in the dirt, and gaze at the clouds—all in the name of exploration. We would become 4-H Outdoor Explorers and, most importantly, we would have FUN!

The 4-H Outdoor Explorers program operates through the APS Extended Day program. School staff are trained in the curriculum and carefully plan out a schedule of activities. Then, with volunteer support, they lead elementary-aged youth in simple nature lessons. In the fall, this program will run at Randolph, Drew, Ashlawn, and Hoffman Boston Elementary Schools.

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The 4-H Outdoor Explorers program is one of two exciting 4-H opportunities for volunteers to reach budding naturalists. The other is the 4-H Nature Knights, a club for youth ages 9–13. These curious conservationists meet monthly to investigate a nature topic. Volunteers join the fun by leading one-time nature activities or field trips. Activities are only limited by imagination, and recent offerings have included a tree identification walk, stream surveying, and a lesson on hummingbird migration.

By exposing youth to the wonders of the natural world at an early age, 4-H is developing the next generation of conservation leaders. In order to continue this important mission, we need your help.

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We’re looking for volunteers who are interested in sharing their passion for nature with youth. Do you enjoy playing in the dirt? Do you like exploring the outdoors? Do you want to help develop the next generation of naturalists? Then come out to the 4-H training on Tuesday, August 23 from 7–9 pm at Walter Reed Community Center to learn how to put your talents and enthusiasm to use. We will cover program opportunities, share tips and tricks for successful environmental education programs, and experience the 4-H model of “learning by doing” through educational games.

Questions? Contact Caitlin Verdu at cverdu@vt.edu, 703-228-6404, or just stop by her office at the Fairlington Community Center, 3308 S. Stafford St., Arlington, VA.

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