A Naturalist Voice
K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple for a young Scientist
Field notes by J. Cantrell, photos by L. Copple

The Ozarks outdoors… there is enchantment here. There is poetry. And there are nonstop lessons and complimentary educational prompts for the parent and educator everywhere you look. The naturalist knows the enchantment is a continuing tale where one character leads to the next. The romantic may say there is poetry in the language and observations of the natural world. Lastly, the educator who is comfortable in nature views the opportunities and generous growth of the student.

Although some know me for my student and youth programs, these classes or outings usually represent my free time. My job is to make a big impact for the environment in a streamlined method – to help teachers with their content and comfort level of the local life sciences. It is fine to identify African habitats and wildlife as shown on cable TV, but it is more important to know about our local water quality, native trees, soils, etc.

Humanity is modernizing fast, and kids say they want to play indoors because that is where the electric outlets are located. I can ask adults to make a list of native trees or birds and a list of television reality stars. Guess which account is typically longer?

Teaching mentors is the focus of my career, whether on a college campus, in educator workshops or taking place in a small group setting. The focal point is providing, creating and sharing curriculum for educators on their terms. “Their terms” being conservation education materials that are undemanding on a classroom budget, provide easy-to-follow lessons, and are evenly aligned to state learning standards. I’m always happy to assist certified teachers, youth leaders and homeschool parents. A tremendous resource is our teacher portal on the Missouri Department of Conservation’s website.

Like most educators, the teacher psyche and sometimes my teacher voice is not contained in a day shift. Working with and sharing nature with youth blends into many volunteer ventures of mine and other staff at the Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center (Wildcat Park, Joplin). October is a prime month for taking kids out on a trail or visiting a park. Nature is all around us, whether among the vegetable garden at Joplin’s West Central Elementary School or the running waters of Clear Creek behind St. Mary’s School in Pierce City. Parents, scout leaders and mentors are teachers, too, and I encourage them to contact the center for ideas to help everyone discover nature.

More than perhaps before, communities are seeing the value of exposing and encouraging students in fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Young girls, especially, need these science learning opportunities. Nothing with a screen or batteries is required for nature discovery. The use of a lens, journal or binoculars to share may be a bonus. However, we find there is power in the simple things. There can be enchantment in observing an insect of the forest at hand. There are a wide variety of fall colors and stimuli to excite a budding scientist in a poetic way. And cheers to the caring parent and the dedicated teacher who work tirelessly and successfully to compliment a student’s sense of wonder. They faithfully attempt to help the young people discover the world they are part of in the Show Me The Ozarks region, and adhering to the KISS motto goes a long way.

Jeff Cantrell is a local conservation outdoor educator, member of MEEA (Missouri Environmental Ed Association) and STOM (Science Teachers of Missouri). He may be reached at jeff.cantrell@mdc.mo.gov.