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Sharing Nature with Children: Junior Naturalist Program

“Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.”
Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

Our passion at the South Carolina Botanical Garden is to introduce people of all ages to the wonders and beauty of the natural world. One of our programs dedicated to this end is the Junior Naturalist Program, which began in 2013. This after-school program (4 p.m. – 5: 30 p.m.) is for children 6-12 years old. It runs bi-weekly from February to May as well as August to November every year. Through this program, we have been fortunate to encounter some amazingly talented, curious, and passionate children over the years.

One of the most important elements of this program is getting children outside to roam and explore under our gentle guidance. The Natural Heritage Garden is a fantastic outdoor classroom, enabling us to explore much of South Carolina without leaving the site. Indeed, the SCBG provides a wonderful learning environment from the rocks and soil beneath our feet, the habitats throughout the Garden, to the animals making their homes here. It truly is a Garden for life.

Junior Naturalists on the Natural Heritage Trail.

Junior Naturalists on the Natural Heritage Trail.
Sue Watts, ©2019, Clemson University

Participants thinking about leaves.

Participants thinking about leaves.
Sue Watts, ©2019, Clemson University

Teaching participants how to tag monarchs on their flight south for the winter.

Teaching participants how to tag monarchs on their flight south for the winter.
Sue Watts, ©2019, Clemson University

We are also fortunate to have experts from the university and the local community that share their knowledge and excitement with program participants. For example, university graduate student, Marion Clements, presented her barred owl project. Local beekeeper, Aric Black, encouraged children to conquer their fears and learn about honeybees. Entomologist, Mike Ferro, shared his passion for insects, while Gene Rochester shared his love of birds. And most recently, Steve Schutt of South Cove Park taught the participants how to tag monarchs on their flight south for the winter.

When the program begins this February, we will learn about phenology, the study of the seasonal events in the lives of plants and animals. In doing so, we’ll track the timing of dogwood bud break, leaf out, and flowering. Participate will engage in the nationwide citizen science project, Nature’s Journal, to track the spread of spring across the United States in 2020, comparing what we find to years past. Where possible, we incorporate real-world issues, teach useful skills, and encourage scientific thought and analysis, all while having fun! Other topics we will cover this year will include geology, botany, entomology, mycology, lichenology, ornithology, herpetology, wildlife biology, and conservation. All these fancy words equate to getting outside to explore and ask and answer questions while getting more acquainted with our beautiful, complex world. Our ultimate hope is that in the process, we will create passionate stewards of the natural world.

If you have questions about this program, please do not hesitate to contact Sue Watts at watts9@clemson.edu. If your child is interested in joining this program, you may register online here. There are scholarships available for this program (contact Sue Watts for details).

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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