Youth program inspires budding naturalists

 

Junior Master NaturalistsWielding green-netted, hand-held scoops, the small group of middle school children leaned over the creek at the Austin Nature and Science Center. They searched among the moss-covered rocks and silt-laden shallows of the stream for the tadpoles, minnows, and dragonfly larvae lurking in its depths. Mary Ann Melton, chairperson of the Youth Education Committee for the Texas Master Naturalist Program, smiled at the children’s engaged focus on the teeming minuscule life before them. She could tell that this visit, presented by the newly-launched Junior Master Naturalist Program, was already a great success.

“When we went to the Austin Nature Center,” Mary Ann says, “[the kids] were fascinated by getting to use the nets and observe what they found. We [also] covered amphibians and reptiles with a field trip doing a Texas Amphibian Watch, monitoring where the kids found and heard several species of frogs and toads. The Junior Master Naturalist program is designed to do just this—to provide young people with an understanding of Texas’ plants, water, soils, and wildlife, [and to encourage] . . . volunteering in local communities and developing a sense of stewardship.”

AmphibianDesigned for children between the ages of nine and thirteen, the Junior Master Naturalist Program offers three years of distinctive programming for young people in fourth to sixth grades. This way, Mary Ann says, “kids can be involved each year with different topics to keep them interested.” This series of programs, created by the Good Water Youth Education Committee, covers a wide range of topics, from trees, wildflowers, weather, soils, and astronomy to birds, bats, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

“In today’s world too many children spend most of their time in front of computers, television, or other electronic devices and don’t get to experience the wonders of the natural world around them,” says Mary Ann. “One of my personal goals is for these children to be more observant of nature around them on a daily basis. As they go to school on the bus or in the car, I want them to notice the hawks on the power poles or soaring overhead, the beauty of a sunrise or sunset, or the flowers along the roadside. When we train our eyes and ears to see the remarkable things in nature around us, we appreciate them more and want to protect and to conserve them.”


Good Water Master Naturalists is part of the Texas Master Naturalist program and is sponsored by the Texas Parks and Wildlife and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Local sponsors of the 2012–2013 Junior Master Naturalist Program include Evans, Ewan & Brady Insurance, Almighty Rentals, Georgetown Farm Supply, Independence Bank, and The Sun. Registration for the Junior Master Naturalist program begins in August.

For more information, contact Mary Ann Melton at 512-740-1133 or maryannmelton@me.com, or visit txmn.org/goodwater/junior-master-naturalist-program.

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