A Naturalist Voice

Grounding Kids to the Earth

Field Notes by J. Cantrell, photos courtesy of the Missouri Department of Conservation

Once the temperatures start warming up, April is the threshold month of taking kids outside. I recognize how scouters, youth leaders and the older half of Big Brothers/Big Sisters think. They have had a stretch of bundling up children in cool-season fashion for outings or stuck with indoor activities and are anxious for warmer spring days to get the kids outside.

Fortunately for them, we have Earth Day this month on the 22nd and Arbor Day observed on the 26th. Sportsmen and naturalists are thinking highly of April, too. They have thoughts of spring turkey hunting, crappie in the fryer, morel mushroom quests and signs of spring blooming everywhere from trout lilies to dogwoods in the Ozark woods. There is no end to the opportunities spring offers, and we need to include the youth more and more so they are able to sense our connection to the environment. Unfortunately, too many young people and educators are losing connection with nature, and it is in our future’s best interest to reverse the trend.

Earth Day alone is a highlight for many homeschool groups, scout troops and after-school clubs. It is a day set aside for appreciating our natural world – the Earth’s network of life, water, atmosphere and geology. The holiday lends itself to deeper education and of service to our natural community. To me, it has an expected association of science awareness with several of my school projects, and nationally, there has been a movement of March for Science events around the country.

Here in the Show Me The Ozarks region, we are fortunate to have an Arbor Day/Earth Day combo event in Joplin at Landreth Park Saturday, April 27; festivities go from 10 am to 1 pm. The Joplin mayor will give an Arbor Day Proclamation at 11 am.

The day’s celebration will be a nice accumulation of “nature fun stuff” ranging from a 5k run to face painting to food vendors, etc. Several exhibits and games will have direct ties to Earth’s life cycles and resources including water-quality monitoring, and pollinator and native plant conservation that may be implemented around anyone’s home. Everyone is intrigued about Missouri’s bats (come see bat houses), a marvelous garden pest- and mosquito-eating machine, but how many people know about a Doggie Doo Digestor? The Doo Digestor has many benefits to public park lands and city water quality. Come see this innovative apparatus. The service projects featured include urban creek clean-ups and a variety of environmental education booths. To learn more, see the MO Master Naturalist website chertglades.org, or contact Joplin City Park events.


Leading up to the event, here are a few things to prime the Earth Day theme for youth leaders:

  • If you don’t already recycle, start with glass. It is practically 100 percent recyclable. You can leave the paper labels on the cleaned bottles and jars; glass is a suitable start for a recycling home program.
  • Adopt a “wild corner” in the yard or a whole flower bed. Research and start a small area devoted to native wildflowers and discard all exotic weeds. Sit back and watch the native pollinators join the Earth Day gathering.
  • If you work with children, devote a little creative free time with them on an Arbor Day project. Have them investigate the buds and other signs of spring on a selected tree in the yard or plan a short road trip or walk and discover a city park tree.

Arbor Day and Earth Day are perfect reasons for spending quality time with friends, kids and family outdoors. The benefits and fun times are endless. If any educator would like more ideas on what to do with a group, please feel free to drop me a line at [email protected]. I hope to see you all enjoying a trail this April. It is a beautiful month in the Ozarks! – Jeff

Jeff Cantrell is an outdoor/conservation educator with the Missouri Department of Conservation. He works out of the Neosho Forestry Office.