Friday, April 17, 2015

Teens Teach This Former Teacher a Life Lesson -by Marty Marsh

One day each week I volunteer with middle-school students.  Retired after 35 years teaching, spending my days with teenagers, I still enjoy quality time with them.  I laugh more, and I come home tired but happy  Whether it is volunteer work in a school or quality time with grandchildren or neighborhood children, our lives are enriched by time spent with young people who teach us as we mentor them.

Hopefully, my former students learned lots from our time together, but I learned just as much from them.  One amazing characteristic of young people is their enthusiasm and willingness to participate.  When teaching, I tried an activity that worked with middle-school students and failed with adults - "personal interviews" to get to know students.  I would start by asking for a volunteer.  No adult would raise a hand without more information.  Only a few high school students volunteered.  However, practically every student in a middle-school class volunteers.  I love that!  Somewhere along the growing-up process following middle-school we learn to hesitate, to not commit right away, or to worry about what others think of us.

When the bell rings to end a period of volunteering, often with my doing a lesson on poetry, I always have a line of students in front of me.  They haven't had a chance to share during class, and they absolutely want me to know what they are thinking.  They don't leave until their turn comes because they are confident that I want to know about their thoughts and experience.  One-on-one is powerful.  These students constantly make me aware of how important it is that I listen carefully to those around me, of any age, and to honor their ideas.

Young people are passionate about their interests and expect to be successful.  When I sponsor writing contests twice a year at Lesher Middle School, only a few win but all the kids expect to win.  That's why this April, National Poetry Month, each grade will have 25 poets recognized.  From that group, a couple of top winners will be selected, but I want to encourage all of them to continue writing, whether they win a top prize or not.  Eventually they will learn that the creative writing process is worth the work on its own.

When I work in the Media Center (what used to be called the school library) and can't figure out how to solve a computer problem, all I have to do is ask one of these teenagers.  They know exactly what to do, and they love being "the teacher" to a teacher.  Young people have been raised with technology and can help parents, grandparents and neighbors use this great tool.

I can't imagine living in a retirement community that doesn't have young people.  I'm thankful that Fort Collins schools have so many opportunities for volunteers so I can spend time each week with teenagers.  It's a win-win. I continue to learn as much from them as they do from me.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Reconnecting with Nature -by Dale Hein

Building upon your earliest memories of nature can be a satisfying journey "back to the future".

Perhaps you slept in a tent at Scout camp and heard an owl hooting at constant intervals.  Maybe the tide washed away your sand castle , or the sun melted your snow sculpture.  Nature did not care.

Possibly you found a turtle, and brought it home.  You named it Simon and kept it in your bedroom.  When your dad said that it was time for Simon to hibernate you set Simon free in a pond.

More than half a century later, such early experiences in nature remain vivid to many of us.

While I was a professor of wildlife biology at Colorado State University, I often taught summer field courses in ecology and natural history. e.g. for Elderhostel (now Road Scholar), National Parks Conservation Association and National Wildlife Federation.  The participants were mostly retirees or seniors on vacation.  Often they were reconnecting with nature in ways they had first done as children.

So many times I heard, "Why, I remember that flower (or bird, or tree) on my grandparents' farm when I was little."

Or, "I remember we kept cocoons in our classroom until this same kind of butterfly emerged."

Don't you recall the first fish you caught, seashells you saved, or meteor showers you saw?

We usually have more discretionary time later in life, especially after retirement.  We may still be busy - but busy at what we choose.  One choice may be to discover new interests.  Rediscovering former interests can be even more satisfying.  Reconnecting to nature can be as simple as activating dormant childhood memories.

A mature dault has resources and abilities to explore nature that were limited in childhood.  It can be a time to revive and build on those early memories.  Now, a nature walk in woodlands, hills, stream-side, or fields can include nature photography, plant identification, bird watching, nature writing, and helping others learn.

Hopefully, as you grow as a naturalist, you will also become a conservationist, helping to preserve our vital natural world.

When we get to know more of nature, we can graduate to helping others, especially youths, to know nature better.  Too many children suffer from "nature deficiency disorder" in this increasingly technological world.

Year-round, free educational activities are available at 40 natural areas in Fort Collins ( areas), giving all of us, of any age, the opportunity to get in closer touch with nature.