Leaving class, students set out for the ‘big picture’Earlier this month about 70 first through third graders at the River Falls Public Montessori School bundled up on a frigid Friday morning for a field trip to Kelly Creek Preserve in the town of Kinnickinnic.
Earlier this month about 70 first through third graders at the River Falls Public Montessori School bundled up on a frigid Friday morning for a field trip to Kelly Creek Preserve in the town of Kinnickinnic.
The field trip was hosted by members of the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust (KRLT).
Kelly Creek Preserve is located off County Road J and just east of the juncture with County Road JJ.
Maggie Watson, one of four Montessori teachers (guides) who went on the trip, said the brisk fall weather was simply part of the learning experience.
“We were prepared -- the kids all bundled up in warm coats, hats, mittens and good walking shoes, because we knew we’d be walking through the prairie grasses and the woods,” Watson said. “And it was beautifully sunny, so that’s always nice.
Watson said the outdoor trip was an ideal match for what Montessori students are learning about.
“It’s a perfect connection to our curriculum, which is all about inspiring excitement and helping students make connections between their lives and the larger world,” she said. “In Montessori, we like to start with the ‘big picture’ and then work on learning more.
“So this field trip was a perfect way to make some really big ideas feel real to the students: River systems, a prairie biome and what depends on it (and how it relates back to the river); what it means to care for the health of the river and the prairie habitat.
“What better place to do it than a source of our own Kinnickinnic River?”
Watson said there’s no substitute for giving young students hands-on knowledge about what they’re being taught.
“The students had already known about the parts of a river and features of a prairie -- now, they’ve experienced these firsthand,” she said. “And when we go back to study more in-depth, the students will have this real connection.
“We plan to keep returning to this wonderful resource made available by the KRLT. Now we are looking forward to more collaboration between KRLT, our school, our students and families, and the possibilities for preservation and stewardship that we can contribute to.”
Watson said lessons from Kelly Creek Preserve field trip will likely spin out in new directions.
“It’s quite possible that our students and their families will be inspired to plant native prairie plants, or help with Kinni River stewardship, our maybe we will plant a school prairie ourselves,” she said. “It’s hard to say what exactly will happen, as these ideas will spring from the students and proceed with guidance of their teachers, but we are all pretty excited by the possibilities.”
Watson brought up a humorous anecdote that also showed the wonder of how children learn in the outdoors.
“A culminating activity of the morning was that the students would be helping to disperse the seeds they’d collected earlier from the big bluestem and other prairie grasses,” she said. “One student was overheard saying: ‘All I have to do is let them go in the air? Wow! This is an easy way to plant seeds!’”
Watson praised KRLT for making the field trip so dynamic and informative.
“KRLT really pulled out all the stops for us,” she said. “They arranged to have Aleisha Miller, the environmental education person for St. Croix County, speak to us about the Kinni watershed and how to care for it and why Kelly Creek Spring is so precious.
“Two biologists from the Wisconsin DNR (Harvey Halvorsen and Melissa Sparrow) spoke to us about prairie animals and had skins, stuffed specimens of a meadow vole and 13-lined ground squirrels, and showed us the meadow where voles made tunnels in the grass.
“Derek Johnson, an (UW-River Falls) intern at KRLT, spoke to us about northern hardwood forests. Eric Forward walked us from station to station and Dave Fodroczi took video and pictures.
“We are really appreciative of all the work they did to prepare for our visit.”
KRLT Executive Director Dave Fodroczi said the Montessori school field trip fulfilled a key part of what his organization is all about -- education.
“The event combined fun and learning to share the prairie, wildlife, woodland and watershed concepts that make the Kinnickinnic River such a natural treasure with a new generation,” he said. “This is exactly the type of event and programming that the land trust had in mind when it acquired the property and opened the Kelly Creek Preserve.
“We look to hosting similar events with the school district of River Falls and other community partners.”