An outdoor education program established by Raritan Headwaters Association (RHA) during pandemic-related school closings in 2020 is getting a boost from a charitable grant.
The Robert and Toni Bader Charitable Foundation recently awarded $8,000 to Raritan Headwaters to pay for new equipment and an updated curriculum for the “Nature Days” outdoor learning program for children.
“It’s really exciting to get this grant and make Nature Days even better for the kids,” said Lauren Theis, RHA’s education director.
Nature Days was established during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, when local schools were shut down and students were being taught remotely. The idea was to supplement remote learning with in-person outdoor education at Fairview Farm, RHA’s 170-acre wildlife preserve in Bedminster. The program was based on offerings at RHA’s popular summer nature camps.
Nature Days took off, as many local parents wanted their children to spend time away from their computers and socialize with peers in the fresh air. Sessions were held outdoors, and children wore masks and maintained social distancing.
Although students are now back in their classrooms full-time for the 2021-22 school year, Raritan Headwaters opted to continue Nature Days as an after-school enrichment program.
Thanks to the Bader Charitable Foundation grant, RHA will be able to buy new child-sized picnic tables and classroom furniture, an outdoor play kitchen, and science equipment like magnified portable petri dishes known as critter viewers. “Now we’ll have enough so that every child in the class can have one,” said Theis.
The grant will also allow Theis to revamp the Nature Days curriculum and schedule to meet the needs of students juggling academics, sports and other extra-curricular activities.
The spring 2022 Nature Days session, she said, will focus on seasonal themes like spring birds, the amphibian migration, animal life cycles, spring ephemeral flowers, planting a garden, seed propagation, hiking and nature journaling.
Theis is also excited to re-start school field trips to Fairview Farm for the first time since the pandemic struck in March 2020. “We’re really excited to welcome all the children back – we’ve missed it,” she said.
RHA’s mission is to protect, preserve, and improve the Raritan River headwaters region through science, education, advocacy, land preservation and stewardship.
Nature Days is designed to enhance children’s appreciation of the environment and help them understand what they can do to protect it. The program teaches children to “think globally by acting locally” and inspires them to care for the region’s natural resources and ecosystems.
In 2022, Nature Days will operate for several weeks throughout each season, providing an opportunity for children to learn outside year-round. Nature Days operated at full capacity during its pilot year, demonstrating the need for outdoor education. The program serves children in preschool through fifth grade, and provides science and art activities while incorporating other disciplines such as writing, reading and physical education.