Sandy Sanders opened the afternoon with a question at the Baker Wetlands.
“Who are the guests here?” she asked. “Them or us?”
“Them” would be the snakes, frogs, beavers, birds, turtles and other critters that call the wetlands home. “Us” would be the 40 second-graders from Langston Hughes School who had come to visit for the afternoon.
The students gave the correct answer before receiving a polite admonition about not touching or otherwise disturbing the wildlife. Then, it was off to learn about a wonderland of nature few of the students had seen before.
The visit was part of Learning About the Environment Through the Arts, a multi-faceted program organized by the Lied Center at Kansas University that brought together children community volunteers to learn about life cycles.
“I thought it would be really interesting to marry the arts and sciences,” says Anthea Scouffas, the Lied Center’s director of education. “You can bridge the arts with about any topic.”
The long-term program kicked off March 12, when 1,000 second-grade students watched “Stellaluna” at the Lied Center. The show, performed by the Canadian company King Cole Theatricals, uses puppets to tell about a lost baby bat finding her way back to her family.
Then, storyteller Priscilla Howe visited the classrooms to discuss the performance, help the students create their own puppets and discuss the wetlands prior to their field trips there.
Howe says she wanted to teach both about the arts and science in her presentations to students.
“It’s kind of an idea coming into its own — to use the arts to teach other subjects,” Howe says. “Not have it just be passed on, but a way for students to understand in another way. It helps with kinesthetic and aural learners.”
Howe says the second-grade students were the perfect age for the project.
“It’s a wonderful age,” she says. “They’re really interested and have a lot to say, but they’ll listen at the same time. They’re very participatory but not wild.”
After Howe’s visit, the students — from Hillcrest, Langston Hughes and Quail Run schools — spent an hour and a half at the Baker Wetlands, learning from educator volunteers from the Wakarusa Wetlands Learners organization.
“It’s so important to get kids re-acquainted with nature, to see what we’re doing to it,” says Sanders, the group’s coordinator.
At the wetlands, the students learn about the small organisms living in the water, and the reptiles and amphibians found in Kansas, among other topics.
Karen Johnson’s second-grade class at Langston Hughes School has been learning about reptiles, and the field trip fit perfectly into the curriculum, she says.
“This study helps second-graders to be able to see herps where we live, and not just around the world,” she says. “You learn the most when you’re out here.”
And in a time when school budgets are being cut, having the Lied Center’s support for field trips is important, Johnson says.
Scouffas, the Lied’s education director, says this year’s project is similar to previous projects, including one center on the book, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”
“It’s about reaching kids in various ways,” she says. “it’s about seeing how the sciences can interplay with other topics, and allowing kids the opportunity to come out and experience natural settings.”
For Naomi Trefethen, a Langston Hughes student, the experience has helped guide her career goals.
“I want to be a scientist,” she says. “I don’t know what kind, but I want to be a scientist.”