At nature centers, we conduct classes, camps, and special events for young students, ages pre-school to sixth grade, because part of our mission is to educate.
Parents and teachers are used to sending their kids on field trips because they are interested in providing engaging experiences in the outdoors that require children to learn in the three-dimensional world of nature. On a more practical level, parents will also pay for these experiences.
The budgetary reality is that programming for children makes up the bread and butter of the increasing revenue we are required to generate.
The only problem with this model of education is that the environmental issues we are facing today demand immediate attention. They are so monumental that we can no longer afford to put all of our educational eggs in one 6- to 12-year-old basket.
Waiting for an educated third grader to grow up and become an environmentally responsible citizen is not in our collective best interest.
Given this urgency, how many critical resources education programs are being conducted for adults at nature centers? There are probably few. Generally, adults are pre-occupied with responsibilities and prefer to have more fun in their limited leisure time than discuss global warming and rain forest destruction.
It is important to remind ourselves that even though adults don’t come flocking to critical issues discussions like they do to sporting or music events, it is still important to try.
One way is to start an environmental book club. Amy Markle, who is researching this topic for her master’s thesis, established a club that is going in to its second year. The club has now completed about 15 books on environmental topics, ranging from Jane Goodall’s, A Harvest of Hope to Garbageland: On the Secret Trail of Trash by Elizabeth Royte.
The eight to 10 participants pay $5 each time or enjoy the program for free if they are members. They gather once a month to discuss their concerns and opinions about the topic at hand, and have commented on how much fun they have. They have raised their own awareness about these tough issues within the context of sharing ideas and snacks in a relaxed atmosphere.
The book club announcements on our Web sites may even inspire others to read them, even though they don’t have the time or inclination to attend the meetings.
Members Of The Club
The book club members are reached by e-mail, and book lists are prepared months in advance. Amy selects the books based on member ideas and reviews that indicate they are compelling to read and likely to generate discussion about environmental issues.
She also makes sure that multiple copies of each book are available at the local library so that members are not required to buy the selection. The club meets the first Monday evening of each month for consistency, but takes a break in the summer months. The discussions usually last one to one-and-a-half hours.
When participants first attend, they fill out an index card with their name, e-mail address, phone number and reading interests.
Contributing time in the evening takes a dedicated staff, but for Amy, the club is one of her favorite programs. She thinks critically thinking adults are refreshing, and the interaction challenges her own thoughts on these tough issues.
Though the group is not large, the dedicated members have become reliable volunteers and have made a personal connection to our center. Just last week one of the book club members bought an engraved leaf (for $250) to support our garden project in honor of the book club.
To find out more, you can contact Amy Markle at Amarkle@cityofrichfield.org.
Dr. Karen I. Shragg is Director of the Wood Lake Nature Center for the City of Richfield, Minn. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.