Last Friday morning’s torrential downpour didn’t dampen spirits at the China Schools as they hosted their 9th Forest Day Celebration. “Who can find a white ash?” Cindy Lyford called out as students enthusiastically pawed through leaves set out on the tables, trying to find the right match to add to their leaf rubbings. Down the hall, an Inland Hospital volunteer lead kindergarten students through some basic yoga, while students in the cafeteria listened to a Maine Forester’s presentation while eagerly awaiting the arrival of Smokey the Bear.
The China Schools Forest Day Celebration started in 2000 and has typically run every other year, with one three-year gap. “In all the years we’ve done this, this is the first time we’ve had to start the day inside,” said semi-retired China Primary teacher Elaine Philbrook who heads up the event with former China Schools teacher and Maine Master Naturalist Anita Smith. “It still provides a good change of pace and gets the students up and moving around.”
The event is typically set up at stations scattered through the China Schools’ Forest and community field and is designed to help students develop an appreciation for nature. This year’s presenters spread out across classrooms and hallways with activities focused on either the natural world or physical activity. Nearly every station had a hands-on component that allowed students to interact with the material in a different way. CPS Pre-K through 4th graders rotated through stations on topics like recycling and composting principals, tree, plant, and animal identification, and monarch migration.
The China Middle presentations were geared toward more advanced skills and concepts such as map and compass, forestry management, soil testing, and nature writing. Students got to meet a ball python, learned how to budget natural resources for survival, and one intrepid group even ventured out into the wet forest to learn the very important skill of identifying poison ivy.
Even with nearly all the activities based inside, the focus was still very much on the natural world and all that nature provides us.“It’s so important to foster a connection with nature,” said Anita Smith. This is perhaps even more crucial for middle school students who tend to spend more time inside and on devices. “The mapping presentation even uses tablets to show them that nature and technology aren’t mutually exclusive,” Ms.Smith added.
While many of the 35 volunteer presenters were Maine Naturalists, forestry professionals or presenters from Project Learning Tree and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, many were also parents, grandparents or community members with a passion for nature and a desire to share their knowledge with the school community. “Everyone is eager to get involved,” said Ms. Philbrook. Local businesses also contribute; this year MJEK Seafood donated food to the luncheon and Hannaford donated cups, napkins and $25 to go towards the purchase of food.
“As soon as we wrap up one event, we start thinking ahead and planning the next one,” Ms. Philbrook said. “Many of our presenters never miss a year, but we’re always looking for new presentations and people who want to be a part of this day.” For more information on the China Schools’ Forest and pictures of Forest Day please go to https://www.facebook.com/chinaschoolsforest/.