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Observing White-tailed Deer – Part 1

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All photos were graciously provided by photographer, Sarah-Vita Younan. I have provided the link to her Instagram page if any of you are interested in seeing more of her wonderful work like this! https://www.instagram.com/sv_younan/

Here is the first installment of a new series that I’ve been so excited to share with you all. The most popular mammal that gets all the attention in our preserve would be the white-tailed deer. These four-legged prancing animals have obtained for themselves quite a reputation in our city of Chicago. They are not only a delight for visitors to see but are also complex creatures, full of interesting and often surprising facts.

Because there is so much to cover about these beautiful creatures, I will be installing separate posts for the season. We will cover basic deer facts and explain what goes on with these animals during the four seasons. Like the natural world around them, the deer experience changes throughout the four seasons. These changes not only act as a benefit for their survival but are a fun and educational experience for humans to enjoy.

Once I learned about these fascinating facts, I became very interested in hiking the preserve on my lunch break or on the weekends, to see how many of these changes I could detect. I would encourage you to do the same. If you have children, make it a family trip. If you’re bored and would like to pass some time, research the closest area near you where deer sightings have been reported. You’ll likely find much enjoyment in observing these animals at a closer distance than your television.

So without further adieu, let me introduce you to the fascinating and beautiful world of the white-tailed deer!

Introduction: The Basics

Let’s start with the name that I first introduced you to. Though North America has a vast population of deer in the country, it doesn’t mean all deer are the same. Many basic habits are similar to the family of Cervidae, which include moose, elk, reindeer etc. The white-tailed deer is apart of this class, but they have a distinct difference that is evident in the name.

You’ve guessed it, their white tail! You’ll be naturalist authors before you know it! The white-tailed deer has a distinct fluffy tail which sticks straight up, revealing it’s white fur. They do this as a warning to other deer or animals to indicate that danger is afoot.
While other deer may have white fur on the underside of their tail, only the white-tailed deer will use this tool as a flag and a warning.

Senses
The white-tailed deer are color blind. They see the world with many shades of gray, causing them to rely on their other senses to help them. They do have an acute sense of scent and hearing, which is beneficial for their survival. A deer can distinctly hear a predator approaching from a surprising distance. You can imagine how handy this becomes against carnivores who would like a quick lunch.

Teeth
Adult deer have a set of 32 teeth. 12 premolars, 12 molars, 6 incisors, and 2 canines. Though many other ideas have been shared, observing the wear and replacement of deer’s teeth is one of the methods for finding out the deer’s age. Younger deer have fewer teeth until their, “milking teeth” fall out. Just like children’s do.
Although I have not had a great deal of experience in observing the teeth of deer, there are many hunters who have been educated in this practice. And I suppose it would be a fun trick to try and use to impress your friends. New Year’s resolutions anyone?

Hooves
Deer have four long, skinny legs with “cloven hooves.” Hold onto to your hats, folks! We’ve got one more naturalist word to show. Cloven hooves are the word used to describe the two main hooves on each foot. Now that description might be hard to picture, so I’ll make it easier. Just imagine a sheep, cow, or pig. You can cheat and search Google for some images if you want. I won’t tell! Deer hooves are similar to these animals. The females have special scent glands near their legs, which attract the males in the autumn season. We’ll discuss more of this season in the next installment, but for now, you’ve already learned so much!

Diet
As lovely as deer are for the public to enjoy, not everyone is pleased with their presence. Many farmers and agriculturists have reported the tons of damage that deer have bestowed upon their crops. Since deer are herbivores (plant eaters), that means that they can eat many types of vegetation. Most standard vegetables, plants, grasses, and crops deer will eat.
In terms of food consumption, it all depends. During the winter, for example, plants and food a limited, so deer will eat less. A standard healthy deer can easily consume 7 pounds of vegetation per day. That converts to 2,555 pounds in a year! Someone could use a gym membership as a holiday gift!

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I can defiantly imagine this big boy eating 7 pounds of food per day!

Conclusion
So now that we’ve briefly reviewed some basic deer facts, I think you are ready for the fun stuff! Like what happens to the deer in the autumn? What’s the deal with those antlers? Is life for a baby deer hard? Well, you’ll just have to wait for my next installment, which will be in a few weeks. However, I would still challenge you to go out and look for some deer near your area.
There’s so much you can discover for yourself by just silently observing these awesome animals. You can make a new hobby out of it too. By the time you’re done reading this series, you’ll be a genius in Deer Facts 101!
Maybe you do know a lot about deer already though. Perhaps you grew up seeing them or observe deer regularly? If you fit into this category, that’s great! Please share your thoughts and experiences with me in the comment section. I’d love to hear from you. What’s your story with deer? When do you remember being introduced to this interesting animal?

And as always if you have any questions, would like to review this article, or just want to share your thoughts, please do so in the comments! This blog is an open canvas to do so with. Your words will not only be seen and reviewed but also treasured!

 

God Bless!

 

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It Pays To Aid

The Nature Center did such a fantastic job of throwing us a lovely Volunteer Recognition Dinner on Saturday. So to thank them, I thought I’d write them a small piece to let them know how much I appreciate their dedicated work, every single day!!

                              It Pays To Aid

                                                                                      by Rosa Younan

     Through the eight years of volunteering here at the North Park Village Nature Center, I’ve learned valuable lessons. I’ve learned to be better organized, to communicate to others more efficiently, and to think about others before myself. I’ve made lasting friendships here, where people not only help you but also support you.

The Nature Center is the place where I grew up and shaped into an adult. It’s where first memories were made, good fun was always allowed, and friends became family. It is a community where we all belong and where we all work to help each other.

Let’s not forget the values that truly make this place, one of a kind. Here I’ve witnessed neighbor helping neighbor and strangers coming together to build amazing things. The Nature Center is the kind of place, that helps others when they fall, and aids friends with favors. This is something we’ve all accomplished here, so let’s take joy and pride in our work. And let’s not forget the good values that are brought here.

And for me, these values were represented by the four most outstanding individuals here. Liza, Bob, Sean, and Frank. It’s these staff members who give us all we have. It’s their unwavering patience, friendly smiles, and helpful attitude that make this place run smoothly. So allow me to take the time to thank them each personally.

Mr. Bob Porter works tirelessly to organize and set up the restorations every single week. And no matter how hard things can get, I’ve witnessed him approach every obstacle with a positive attitude and yearning for football. He approaches tasks with an organization and puts a special touch in everything he does.

No matter the time or hour, Bob will always find time to bring in a laugh. He’s taught me much more than I think even he realizes. Not just about plant life, but about work ethic and this place would be so different without him. Thanks, Bob, I appreciate you!

Ms. Liza Fischel brings in a gentle and friendly disposition. She’s always willing to communicate with others and work with what we have. By observing her teaching skills, I’ve learned how to not only approach education with my mind, but also with my heart.

I’ve witnessed Liza building important relationships with many people. So many younger children love her and her patient attitude. She is a constant reminder of what all of us as educators should be thinking and doing. As she always looks for the best in people her positive attitude is evident in everything she does. She’s been my inspiration in a world filled with uncertainty and the gentle shove I need every now and then toward better things. And I hope she knows how much we all appreciate her. Thank you, Liza!

Mr. Frank DeMartino may not do educational work at the Nature Center. But I can say with firm confidence that he always does much more than is expected of him. Frank’s bright disposition makes things run so much more smoothly. Often I’ve witnessed him having a happy conversation with a newcomer, or educating others about the Center.

Frank is a unique and special human being, with a warm heart for everyone. His laughter is contagious and always welcome. I’m deeply grateful for Frank’s warm and caring attitude, for the sibling affection we have, and for the joy he breaths into the Nature Center. Thank you, Frank!!

And finally Mr. Sean Shaffer. Sean was one of the first staff members I had the pleasure of working with years ago, at the age of eleven. Our first job was to clean out the caterpillars. Yet, I remember being so fascinated with the butterflies, because of everything Sean taught me. I’ve witnessed his hard work and dedication in every task he does. His ideas are creative and unique and his classes are always a blast!

Like Frank, Sean also keeps everything running with a good joke and a happy demeanor. He also truly cares about this place and those who work here. I’ve witnessed his compassionate help toward many volunteers, myself included. He’s a patient and selfless man, who deserves to be recognized! Thank you, Sean!

I’ve learned so much from these dedicated staff members. They’ve taught me how to better my classes and educate the public in unique and creative ways. I’ve learned how to overcome fears and come out of my own shell by their example. By working with them I’ve come to understand that, laughter is always welcome, it’s ok to make mistakes, and that family and community matters.

So today I just felt like using my gift of writing to do something special for them. So that these staff members know how much I appreciate them. If they think that my work is great, well, it’s just a reflection of all I’ve witnessed volunteering with them.

As a volunteer, I have learned that so many virtues come to play. Like, patience, humbleness, and dedication. But to me, the greatest virtue you can give anyone is your love. Because that is the one thing we can’t get back and is truly free!

So remember the words of Winston Churchill, who said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

Thank you all for giving!

Rosa Younan

Dedicated to: Sean Shaffer, Liza Fischel, Bob Porter, Frank DeMartino

 

What On Earth?

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I’m so happy and honored to be sharing with you all this special guest post, written by my dear friend, Julie Sacco. Today Julie is sharing with us the science behind the last recent eclipse of 2017 and her own observations as a Chicagoan.

WHAT ON EARTH?
A occasional piece considering issues in the natural world that interface with people’s lives, in the hope that readers think globally and act locally for the betterment of biodiversity and their fellow occupants of Planet Earth. It’s probably better than the alternative.

The Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017: A Chicagoan’s Observations.

The numbers are astronomical:

A flaming sphere 94 million miles away crossed celestial paths with a pock-marked rock 239,000 miles away causing a 68-mile wide shadow to sweep 3,000 miles from the west coast of Oregon to the east coast of South Carolina creating a path of totality through 10 states in 3 hours and 3 minutes … but who’s counting.

Thanks to a celestial coincidence, a total eclipse occurs every 18 months during a new moon. While the sun is 400 times larger than the moon, the moon is 400 times closer to the earth, making both appear to be the same size. When these three spheres are precisely aligned in syzygy, so that the moon passes directly in front of the sun from the earth’s perspective, the sun is obscured resulting in a total eclipse.

On Monday, August 21, 2017 at 1:19 pm, the midpoint of the moon’s umbra spilled over the banks of the Mississippi River to enter Illinois; 5 minutes later, at 1:24 pm, it swept past the Ohio River into Kentucky. And so it progressed, until flying over the Atlantic Ocean at 2:40 pm. Traveling at 2,400 mph, this transcontinental air show was over in 183 minutes. It was the first solar eclipse visible from the United States since 1979, and the first to traverse the continental U.S. in 99 years.

Now you see it, now you don’t

For millennia, a solar eclipse was suffered with dread and explained by myths. It was everything from a hungry dragon above China lunching on the solar globe, to Great Plains Indians’ belief that the sun and moon merged as if in marriage. In a real game of thrones, Babylonian kings briefly abdicated and crowned a temporary monarch until royal soothsayers declared it safe to dethrone, and then decapitate, the avatar. But not all superstitions were bloody: the Italians believed that flowers planted during a solar eclipse grew more colorful and more vibrant than all others.

The stars dictate, and physics confirms, that the next total solar eclipse visible within the Lower 48 will be on April 8, 2024, taking a southwest-to-northeast trajectory through 14 states, from Texas to Maine. And while the 2017 maximum totality was 2 minutes and 40.2 seconds, totality in 2024 will last 3 minutes and 22 seconds. The longest duration possible is 7 minutes and 32 seconds.

Birds gotta swim and fish gotta fly

For all the myths surrounding a solar eclipse, some unusual things actually do happen in nature. Flowers react to the lack of sunlight by folding up their petals. Birds stop singing and wing to their evening homes – except for owls who get an encore performance that day. Ants are dazed and confused scurrying for their mounds, and salmon wash ashore looking for food in the darkened water.

Archeoastronomy

How important was it to the ancients to learn the mysteries of an eclipse? In 1999, it was discovered that spiral-shaped petroglyphs in Ireland correspond to a solar eclipse on November 30, 3340 BC. Fast-forward to 2145 BC when Chinese emperor Chung K’ang executed two court astronomers for not predicting an eclipse in-progress.

But it was the detailed records kept by Babylonian and Assyrian observers between 1700-763 BC that made it possible for later sky gazers to predict eclipses 25,000 years into the future. In AD 150, Claudius Ptolemy successfully did the math, geometry and trigonometry, that allowed for accurate calculations. This was the turning point from superstition to science: no more hungry dragons or cranky gods messing with mere mortals, an eclipse was merely a calculable event involving the orbits of the moon, the earth and the sun. Mystery solved.

Tickling Tom’s fancy

Which is not to say that an eclipse can’t be a hoot. Chicago’s homegrown weather wonk, Tom Skilling, was in downstate Carbondale, Illinois, covering the event. As if sprinkled with pixie dust when the eclipse reached totality at 1:20:06 pm, Skilling spent the next 2 minutes and 37 seconds giggling incomprehensibly. Thousands of fellow enrapt observers swayed while singing “Here comes the sun.” Was this Carbondale or Stonehenge?

I’m being followed by a moon shadow

All this fuss for what? Playing peek-a-boo with Old Sol? “Liking” the eclipse on Facebook along with 160 million others? Cobbling together a pinhole viewing box? Fretting over defective Amazon sunglasses? Why, there wasn’t even enough darkness to trick a cricket into chirping.

Chicago pulled the short straw called overcast skies on August 21. Adding insult to injury, The Windy City sits at a 6 degree Latitude and a 1 degree Longitude difference from Carbondale. This geographical skew meant that Chicago was swiped by 87% penumbra coverage vs. the coveted 100% corona exposure. Notwithstanding, this lady went gaga when day turned into, well, late afternoon.

Solar afterglow

A solstice provides us with an opportunity to do some personal reflection, to think how wide a shadow we cast on everything around us. Like much of what we experience in life, a solstice can be at once surprising yet predictable; irrefutable yet unbelievable; revealing yet concealing; fun yet frightening. As long as people have pondered the universe and life within it, we’ve lived with a bifurcation between what is and what should be, a dichotomy that splits what we want from what we need. This duality drives our decision-making and creates the consequences that ripple throughout the universe.

Everything I need to know I learned from an eclipse

Don’t think so? Try this at home – or maybe don’t: overshadow a loved one and experience real darkness; insist on being right at the expense of someone’s feelings and watch your righteous correctness corrode a relationship; turn a blind eye to another’s needs and see the world through jaundiced-colored glasses; smother somebody else’s aspirations and feel two worlds implode; criticize someone dear in order to improve them and a bond unravels.

Flip your world on its axis and do the opposite: enable everyone to shine like the heavenly body they were created to be; give someone the benefit of the doubt and galvanize a relationship; put others’ needs before your own and nurture their world; enkindle somebody’s dreams and expand their universe; temper criticism with love and kindness so that it’s constructive.

Chicago’s most recent total solar eclipse was on June 6, 1806; its next will be on July 17, 2205. That’s a gap of 399.1 years. What will you do with your time, imagination, passion and joy until the next eclipse hurdles your way?

 

Community- A Place Called Home

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Today I am attempting to define the word community in a single post.

Hold the applause, please?

The North Park Nature Center is many things for many people. A preserve, a place that houses learning and educational development, a park within the city of Chicago, a forty-six-acre lot that holds about four different ecosystems.

That’s what you’ll hear from those that work or manage the Center. However, for the visitors, it’s quite apparent that this preserve holds a lot more than just deer.  Here’s what a few people I’ve spoken to have to say:

“This is the most beautiful spot I’ve ever been too!”

“Coming here has been a family tradition for us for many years!”

“This is my escape. This is where I find healing, love, and support.”

“The Nature Center is my home away from home. It’s my church.”

“You guys do a fantastic job with this place, I love it more and more everytime I come!”

Those are just a few of the thousands of compliments I get to hear, from visitors all the time. Now I have always loved this place and I have begun to challenge myself to ask why?

My list of reasons can go on, but a few are the people, the visitors, the warm and friendly atmosphere, the classes, the natural beauty that surrounds this place, etc. So as I began to ask different people why they enjoyed coming here, I was very surprised by their answers. Why?

They were all like mine.

Perhaps some were different and maybe some people were facing different things in their life, but they all came because this Nature Center makes them feel like they belong.

A sense of belonging is one of the most powerful things a person can feel. It creates a sense of meaning and contentment in their lives and lets them know that they matter.  That’s what this place has always been about and it interlinks with everything else we do here.

We create a sense of belonging to the children by educating them about the world around them. We teach them to be aware of all the beautiful things happening in the natural world around them and this fosters a sense of belonging in their world. When the staff offer to help the visitors with something they need, this makes people feel like their opinions and thoughts are respected. I can tell you, as a volunteer myself, that this impact is huge!

So this leads me to the topic of my post: community. What is a community? Is it a thing, a person, a place, a definition?

If you ask Google, it states that a community is a noun that means, “A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common,” and, “A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”

That sounds powerful. And I believe that’s exactly what the North Park Nature Center is. It’s a group of people who have common goals, attitudes, and interests towards housing awareness of nature. Now let’s think about that word common.

Common goals can actually be brought about by different thoughts, ideas, and perspectives. The one goal is the education of nature, but it is brought about by many different ways. That’s what keeps the center unique and exciting. It’s also what keeps people coming back.

On the flip side, however, besides being unique, we are also a place that remains the same in many things. We have so many awesome volunteers and people who help bring about exciting programs, but we also try to keep some things that people enjoy.

For instance, our pre-k’s cover many of the same topics. We hold the same festivals every year, we also keep popular programs like Monarch Palooza around. Why? I’m sure the staff could tell you a much bigger reason, but I believe it’s the for the simple reason that, the people love it, so we keep doing it.

So as diverse and unique as this preserve is, it also holds a sense of security for me. I naturally like routine. Well, maybe not routine, but I like to know what’s going on so I can get the most out of my day.
When I’m here volunteering, I feel that sense of belonging. I feel like I’m participating in a much bigger cause than I probably even understand. I also have way too much fun tagging butterflies and talking about bees.

I enjoy that sense of belonging that you get when you walk up the steps to that wooden little house. The warm hug I get from my friends upon entering the office. The smiles of joy on the kid’s faces when their waving goodbye, after learning another awesome nature fact. I also enjoy the fact of knowing that despite all the crazy things that happen in our world, this little preserve will always be there for me. Sometimes no change is the best change of all.

So to conclude, that’s what I believe makes up this Nature Center. I think it’s what people want to see, it’s what keeps them coming back, and it’s what leads to lasting relationships.

The two words that I challenge you to ponder upon are community and connections.

But are the two really different after all?

God Bless!

 

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Satisfying Sundays (Part 2 of My Weekend Shift.)

Saturdays are not the only time where the crazy good fun happens. I also work all day on Sundays doing much of the same thing from the previous day.

It’s pretty funny to see the comparison of both days back to back. It’s the weekend, so I see a lot of families coming through. For some strange reason though, I seem to get a lot more questions on Saturdays than Sundays. However, we get phone calls through the entire day.

Some days are quiet with only a few visitors passing through. Other days, it looks like an elementary school hall crammed with children screaming and loud voices. Weekdays tend to be more mellow because of work and school. Especially with the weather. If it’s a nice sunny day, I guarantee more people will come. But if it’s raining cats and dogs and deer, people tend to stay away.

Sundays can be a little nuttier than Saturdays because there’s only one staff member working that day. I work on Sundays with Liza Fischel, naturalist, and educator. I always have such a great time working with her. She is a positive, bright, funny, and beautiful lady whom I’ve learned so much from.

I actually met Liza years ago, when I was eight. My family and I had been looking for a place to spend outside and stumbled across the Nature Center. Unfortunately, it four’ o clock and we met Liza, who was saying goodbye to another family.

She told us that they were closing, but after explaining to her that this was our first time here, she offered to take us on a tour while she checked the preserve before closing. Every evening before we close, we do what we call the walk through. Here, we walk around the preserve letting people on the trails know that we’re closing so we don’t lock them in.

So as we walked through the trail, my Mom explained to Liza that she had homeschooled her children. I remembered feeling kind of bored just walking, so Liza gave us a game to play.
She would ask us a question like, “Can you find a critter who is flying?”

So my older Sarah, myself, and my baby sister Jasmine, who was just four at the time,  would look around the preserve for something flying. At one point, we were asked to find something crawling, and Liza pointed out a Daddy long-leg spider.

Now I love nature, but I can admire spiders from a distance. A particularly far distance if you please. I remember watching her bend down to pick up the spider and hold it in her hand.

I thought, “She’s either crazy or really brave!”

The walk was wonderful and I made a new friend that day. A few days later, my Mom had us doing some drawing for our art lessons. I asked, “Can I give my picture to the lady with the spiders?”

“You mean, Liza?” Mom smiled.

Liza still has those pictures on her wall in the office. Two years later, I became a volunteer there and have done so many fun activities with her since. We’ve become like family rather than colleagues. I often call her Auntie at times.

Sundays start off with a free yoga class that goes on for an hour, and then we may set up the classroom if there is a program going on. If not then there maybe some paperwork to do. All with lots of laughs involved.

Often there is normal Nature Center madness lurking about ready to grab anyone or anything! Like the time someone apparently dropped a bunch of goldfish in our pond.

Someone had came up to the desk and asked, “Do you guys have new fish here?”

I said no, but then she showed me a picture of a whole school of gold floating at the top of the pond. I went to investigate and sure enough, Nemo had found his home.

The fish are still there and now we’ve spotted a lot more species of bird dlying around. Besides seeing the hawks and herons all the time, a King Fisher was also spotted.

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Our dear King Fisher having lunch on a branch. Poor Nemo!!

It’s this happy randomness that keeps things exciting at the Center and I truely believe it’s what makes this place special.

These weekends are probably the most exciting fun I’ve ever experinced and I know more good times are just waiting to come!

God Bless!!

 

Satisfying Saturdays

Every weekend, I come into the Nature Center to volunteer. This consists of answering phones, meeting and greeting visitors, and answering any questions that they may have.

At least that’s what I thought it was when I first started. That was seven years ago.

Now I can see that it’s so much more. More work? Perhaps. However, I can honestly say, I’ve never had so much fun and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

On Saturdays, the two staff members working are naturalist educator, Sean Shaffer, and custodian, Frank DeMartino.  They are quite the team. I’ve known both of them since my first day volunteering.

I have to say that working with Sean is an absolute pleasure. Sean is a dedicated, kind, intelligent and overall great guy! He is also an amazing writer, who has inspired me to write myself.

Sean has written many pre-k stories for the children during our classes and has a great imagination. He also has a lot of knowledge about the natural world and has taught me much of what I know now.

Frank is much more than just a custodian. He always is talking to people, offering a friendly smile and help when it’s needed. His positive spirit is often needed and appreciated so much by so many.

I met Frank when I was ten years old, so I can honestly say that I grew up with him. We are the jokers in the Center and together form a great team! Frank is my best friend rather than my colleague. More like my older brother than my friend.

We talk about techy stuff, cars, art, nature, life in general and all the mishaps that happen along the way. I find it rather amusing that each week, we fill each other in on the miscellaneous adventures that we go through. From his car breaking down and acting up to my Geometry test that I just can’t pass. Friendship is like free therapy!

These are the little reasons why coming to work is such a pleasure for me. When I see something interesting about bees and mentally say, “That’s a Sean question,” or when I see an unsolved mystery and say, “I can’t wait to show this to Frank!”

Their awesome work ethic and friendly spirit help me in ways I don’t even think they know. The ideas Sean and I throw at each other for upcoming programs, the crazy messes that I help Frank clean up that leave us saying, “How did THIS get in a Nature Center?”

Because really people, a bag of infants clothes belongs in a donation bin, not a Nature Center!

Yet that’s one more thing I’ve learned from having spent so many Saturdays here. There’s never a dull moment! Never ever! Something funny, bizarre, and totally out of this world, will always find it’s way here. It just takes a little time.

I spend my afternoons here because I find it extremely pleasing and fun to help people learn new things, even for five minutes. I keep coming back, because of the relationships that last a lifetime.

You can’t duplicate that. I mean, how can you let go of a place where you come and get a hug from a guy who’s like your brother and sit down laughing over coffee? How can you let that go? Where else do you find that?

For me, there is nowhere else. I can’t imagine being anywhere else. Here, I’m needed. Here, I’m truly wanted. Here, my thoughts and opinions matter.

And during wacky Saturday afternoons here, I belong.

Thank you, Sean and Frank, for all those little things that will last a lifetime!

God Bless!

Empowered By Pen and Paper

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Throughout these last few months, my writing class has spiraled in ways I never imagined it could. However, in the class, the teacher got taught a lesson she’ll never forget.

And it all began on the first writing class meetup in March.

I had everything set and ready to go. I had decided to decorate the classroom with a few fun things. For instance, I put brightly colored table cloths over the writing tables, created a comfortable circle for families to sit in, had a warm fire going, and even had popcorn with maple syrup drizzled on top! Yum!

Yeah, this would be fine.

I couldn’t help but feel a few butterflies in my stomach when I saw three or four families enter with close to ten children altogether. Ten children that may or may not know anything about writing. Yet, I forced those thoughts away. The point of this class is to have fun, and that’s what I was here to help them do.

That’s what I kept in my mind as I sat down and greeting the children. However, the enthusiasm that I was carrying did not seem to rub off on this bunch of bright students.

“Oh dear,” I heard my insecurity say like a devil on my shoulder, “They are not enjoying this at all. I bet their parents made them come, and now they are stuck.”

That was in my head but, instead, I said something like, “Hi everyone, I’m so happy you all are here! We’re going to have a lot of fun today.”

The children just stared at me with a bored expression as if to say, “Wanna bet?”

I could feel myself begin to coward out. This was a horrible idea. What was I thinking? These children had no interest in what I was saying at all! Most children probably hate writing anyway…

And that thought did it.

Most children probably hate writing anyway!

Why? Because they can’t write about what they enjoy or what interests them. They have to read books that may bore them and it had become a dreaded task. One that they may never touch again in their adult life.

Now in no way do I mean to put schools down. Writing is something essential and not always an enjoyment.  However, I’m homeschooled and I also know that writing essays on Shakespeare are boring! Although, writing this blog isn’t. Creating teaching manuals is a hobby for me, and writing has become therapeutic in my life!

Because when I’m writing, I’m in control. No one can tell me what I can or can’t say and I have the ability to create my own world.
Perhaps these students have never looked at it in this aspect though. They only know what they’re taught, which is reasonable but not always fun.

 

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(Here the students and I are exploring the critters that are underneath a log.)

So here was my chance to change the perspectives a bit. I asked them, to be honest, and tell me if they really enjoy writing or not.

They all said, no. Honesty is a virtue!

When I asked them why I received many different answers. Some things that were said were, “It’s boring,” or, “I’m not good at it,” and my personal favorite, “You’ll never use it.”

I realized that for these children that was the cold hard truth. That writing held no value to them at all and the only reason to do it was to get the grade.  So I used the short time we had to explain to them just how fun writing can be when you’re in control. I told them that I wasn’t going to grade them on their work and that they could write whatever they wished.

We all went for a walk in the woods and I taught them all about the process of Maple Syrup. The kids used the tools and asked many questions. Then I explained to them how important these stories were.

They seemed confused and one boy said, “No, stories are just in books.”

“Not always,” I smiled, “Everybody has a story. Right now, I’m telling you the story of the Maple Tree.”

This is my own firm belief. Everything is a story. Where you were born? How were you raised? Why did you decide on the job you did? What do you value?

These are stories we all hear every day and that means that we are all storytellers, in our own unique way. I could see the children’s faces took on a new look. Some were frowning as if in deep contemplation and some were smiling like they found the answer to their questions.

When we were done, I explained to them that we were going to head back to the center to write. Immediately, they all whined. When I asked why, they said, “We have nothing to write!”

Tough crowd.

So I faked a look of shock, “Really? You just learned all about Maple Syrup. We found the trees, did a health check on the tree, tapped the tree, named the tree, and you’re telling me you have nothing to write about?”

Then they said, “No, we do.”

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(The students are recording the behavior of a mother goose with her baby goslings.)

And they really did. One boy wrote about how a tree fell in the forest from a wildfire and a group of people came to repair it. I was blown away! This was the same child who earlier had told me he hated writing. His descriptions were amazing and his chronological order was great!

Another child I bonded with was a girl named, Maya. Maya said that she hated writing and that she will do anything to not have to write, even skip school! This sounds terrible, but Maya is a sweet, beautiful girl. Her sense of humor is the best and she kept things interesting for me, during the class. Her disinterest in writing helped me to keep pushing myself a little further to help her enjoy it.

We were joking around a lot while we were outside and she wrote about how her phone ran out of battery while she was in the woods. The reason why she states is, “All Rosa’s fault!”

I have seen Maya a few times after that. She gave me a beautiful heart charm and I made it into a necklace. I believe I made a new friend.

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(Maya and I are discussing what things to write about as the students begin their stories.)

After the class was done, the children admitted to me that they enjoyed this class more than they thought they would. I encouraged them to come back and some of them did.

The next two months of April and May were awesome! The kids were enthusiastic to get outside and start writing. They were asking questions and observing things. In our April meeting, I discussed the difference between fiction and non-fiction. Then we went on a scavenger hunt.
In May, our final meeting, the children wrote their stories outside. They also documented what they saw the animals doing. Toward the end, when I explained to them that this was our last one, they all seemed sad.

They kept saying, “Can we do it in the summer? Please, we’re not doing anything!”

I was shocked. These children, who not even two months ago stated their deep loathing of writing, were now asking me to keep the classes going.

I told them that I would if they promised to continue their writing and give me ideas about what they’d like to see. And wow did they have good ideas.

Fantasy, building, and writing directions to how they built things were just a few. So it looks like this Tween Writing Class is going to stick around, and I couldn’t be happier. Just to know that the kids are enjoying themselves and that they trust me to read their work and help them, is huge for me!

I don’t have any secret as to how I got them to enjoy this class. Perhaps lending a sympathetic ear or showing them that you want them to succeed is a good start. Not pushing but just being there as well.

I know this was a blessing from God because I couldn’t have been able to do it without His help.

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(It turned out to be beautiful weather for our May meeting! Couldn’t be more proud of these young authors!)

Our new dates for the writing sessions are as follows:

June 18th- vocal stores 1:00-2:30 pm.

July 16th- fantasy 1:00-2:30 pm.

August 13th- building and construction 1:00-3:00 pm.

If you wish to register a child please call the Nature Center at 312-744-5472
God bless!