By Laura Roberts
Oglebay Institute’s Schrader Environmental Education Center has come a long way since my days in the 1980s as a nature camper at its former iteration, the A.B. Brooks Nature Center, but its mission remains the same: environmental education.
It’s a unique local resource for adults and schoolchildren alike, and the staff offer a variety of weekend programs for the nature-loving family. We are that nature-loving family, but sometimes we forget this, especially when we get comfortable in our world of electronics. Outdoor play has been shown to reduce stress levels in children, improving everything from academic performance to physical health. Nature wards off anxiety, depression, and obesity.
Today’s children spend, on average, only 30 minutes outside and more than seven hours in front of a screen. With this in mind, my husband and I recently decided that it was time to take the tablets away and get our guys back outside, and I’m not going to lie, they didn’t like it at first. Their imaginations were stunted, and several weeks passed before they could readily entertain themselves by digging a hole or climbing a tree. But they did recover from tablet fever, and I’ve enlisted the Schrader Center to help keep the love of nature roaring within them.
On Saturday, October 24th, I took Andy and Ben to “Mythbusting Nature: Outrageously Awesome Owls”, and it didn’t disappoint.
Mr. Ken Dague, who has just returned from living and working in Australia, led the event, which was attended by both locals and out-of-towners. He’s a patient teacher. While the other children sat in their chairs and answered questions with the eager raise of a hand, mine rolled around on the floor, engaged but full of weekend energy. Ken, however, kept their focus as he taught them about the four owls of the Ohio Valley: the Barn, Screech, Barred, and Great-Horned owls. We practiced owl calls and talked about the birds’ silent flight. The boys were eager to learn what makes owls so unique, but the highlight, for them, was dissecting the owl pellets, or, as Ben shouted at the top of his lungs, “OWL BARF!”
Ken taught us that owls vomit up the indigestible contents of their meals. In little kid terms, this means an opportunity to paw through bird yak and uncover mouse skulls, vole shoulders, and rat jaws. No worries, parents, it’s sanitized and educational, and I got pretty darn excited myself when I uncovered a tiny pelvic bone. Andy proudly brought his skeletal findings home, and Ben spent the following week perfecting his ear-piercing barn owl screech.
Robin Lee, one of the educators at Schrader, visited Ben and Andy’s school the following week, and took the time to email me. “Ben was so excited to share with me about the owls,” she said, and invited us to the next Schrader event, the Nature Scavenger Hunt. These hunts are free and open to the public, and Oglebay Institute hosts them monthly. The November theme was all about birds, owls included. Another great way to spend a Saturday out of doors.
The scavenger hunt sent us out onto the trails with a list of items to find and a collection bag. First on the list? Find a berry. Then, find something red. Then, something yellow. Find a thorn. Listen for a bird. Fall down theatrically in a mud puddle. Drop a rock on your foot. Rip your pants. Trip your brother.
My boys did it all, and I let them walk a hundred feet ahead of me, so they could take their time and open their eyes to nature’s offerings without a maternal hand directing their focus. We hiked to the waterfall and to Camp Russell. We did yoga on a fallen log and found a woolly bear caterpillar who would someday grow up to be a tiger moth.
Ben gave it a kiss.
Back at Schrader, we drank hot chocolate and opened our collection bag to examine our treasures.
“Mommy,” Ben said, as we pulled out a red sweet gum leaf. “I found this where Andy climbed the hill and I set off that landslide, and we smelled that awesome hemlock tree. Remember?”
Andy looked up from the thorn branch he was poking. “That was great. Can we come back next week and do it again?”
The next Nature Scavenger Hunt at the Schrader Center will be held Saturday, December 5, from 12pm to 4pm. Oglebay Institute’s Schrader Environmental Education Center is located in Oglebay Resort.
*Please do not encourage your children to put their mouths on caterpillars, as some can sting or cause an allergic reaction.