Whenever we spend time in the outdoors, we are surrounded by countless opportunities to learn something new, about the flora, the fauna, the natural world around us. Our 120-plus special places are all opportunities to experience that kind of living classroom, not to mention the built classrooms at our museums, historic homes, barnyards, and kitchens. Environmental education is at the core of our mission and our work and we recently had the chance to sponsor and participate in an exciting conference on that topic, hosted by the Massachusetts Environmental Education Society (MEES).
“As President of MEES, I was not only thrilled to have our first in-person conference in 3 years be such a huge success, with 250 outdoor or environmental educators and teachers in attendance, but also was so proud to have so many of our staff from The Trustees attending and presenting the amazing work that we’re doing,” said Jen Klein, who is also Director of Outdoor Experiences for The Trustees.
In addition to attending, our staff presented across a wide range of topics. Elyssa Scheck, South Shore Engagement Manager, has been creating sensory-friendly events at Weir River Farm and World’s End, and offered best practices, advice, and suggestions for those programs, along with Allison Daigle from Autism Alliance.
“It was especially incredible to be able to share about our work on sensory friendly programming with so many people who are in positions to create impact. It’s always very uplifting to spend time with educators, especially those with a focus on science who are dedicated to bettering the world,” Scheck says.
Describing the experience as “nerve-wracking and exhilarating,” Chestnut Hill Farm’s Education Manager and Camp Director, Mary Hannah Cline, offered a presentation titled “’Risky’ Play or Adventure Play? The Impact of Bias on Fear-Based vs. Empowered Language.” Participants were led through an exercise asking them to think about the line between tolerable risk and unreasonable danger.
“I’ve been with children climbing trees, navigating wet rocks in a creek, standing around a fire, using cooking tools, and being around wild and farm animals,” Cline notes. “My workshop was intended to prompt caregivers to reflect on their own personal comfort with seeing children around risk, and then to reflect on how they project that anxiety onto children in the words they say.”
Mobile Engagement Unit Manager Megan Dixon provided another thought-provoking presentation on the series of therapeutic wellness walks which have been offered at Trustees properties, which was co-led with Paula Shagin, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. They provided insight into creating safe physical and mental spaces for program participants and ways to lead walks geared to specific groups, such as teens or women.
“Presenting this topic to a group of environmental educators was really exciting,” says Dixon. “As professionals in this space, we recognize that connection to nature has a positive effect on mental cognition and wellbeing, and how important it is to go about mental health programming responsibly. I hope that people left feeling inspired to replicate this model where they work.”
The final presentation from a member of our staff came from Valerie Perini, Engagement Manager – Nature at The Crane Estate. With a focus on another important topic, training volunteers to be educators and ambassadors, Perini shared the successes, challenges, strategies, and lessons learned from the Coastal Education Volunteer Training Program.
“Workshop participants explored a variety of hands-on materials that I use in the training programs such as sand observation with microscopes, marine specimen ID, and seaweed pressing,” notes Perini. “I was excited that my workshop was packed with participants, and I had some great questions and feedback. I connected with a few potential new customers, and one teacher will be visiting Crane for a field trip in the spring!”
We were also excited to be one of several sponsors of this event, where so many of our property and central staff had a chance to connect with classroom teachers, environmental education organizations, and fellow sponsors from across the state. For more information or any questions about the presentations offered by our staff, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org