The Peterson Young Naturalist Program: Nurturing the Naturalistic Intelligence
By Miriam Westervelt PhD
What a joy it is this fall to get outside in person and in real time with Peterson teachers! Last year, Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s K-12 teacher training program, called the Peterson Young Naturalist Program, was working overtime to pivot to virtual program delivery. We were training teachers on Google Meet to teach students on Google Meet how to get outside, complete nature journals over the school year, and submit them for judging in the spring. We knew we had succeeded when five excited winners, with their parents and teachers, attended our annual award ceremony in June to receive their certificates, cash prizes and Peterson field guides. The winners also saw their teachers being awarded with a backpack full of a classroom set of field guides, binoculars and blank books for nature journaling.
Twenty K-12 teachers from all over Loudoun participated in our first Peterson training this school year at Seneca Ridge Middle School. Seneca has an ideal outdoor classroom setting with amphitheater seating right by a healthy riparian buffer and schoolyard garden. Five veteran outdoor educators led the training. Teachers learned how to make nature drawing a fun activity with Marlena Beach from Hamilton and Banneker Elementary Schools, stay safe outdoors with Norina Treanor from Tuscarora High School, study the history of a stream with Rick Peck of Seneca Ridge, identify local plants and birds with Michael Myers LWC Executive Director, do leaf rubbings in schoolyard gardens with Nicky Schauder of Permaculture Gardens, Inc., and how to use aromatic plants to teach nature observation with MaryKirk Cunningham at Douglass Elementary School. Workshop evaluations such as “Exactly what I needed to recharge!” “I look forward to my students becoming naturalists!” and “These outdoor experiences are good for mental health and give kids a sense of well-being” inspire us to deliver another training this spring.
LWC became a partner with the Peterson program over 10 years ago to meet its education mission in formal K-12 classrooms. Over the years, about 7000 nature journals have been submitted by students of teachers trained in the Peterson program. Recent grant monies from the Community Foundation and the Loudoun County Human Service Nonprofit Mini-Grant Program are helping the program expand this year, especially to Title 1 schools.
Peterson Young Naturalist awards are designed to reward students whose nature journals demonstrate the naturalistic intelligence—one of Howard Gardner’s eight types of multiple intelligences. It is found in children who relate easily to the environment and enjoy identifying and classifying things they find in nature. The program is named in memory of Roger Tory Peterson (1908-1996) the world renowned naturalist and author of the Peterson Field Guide to the Birds. Peterson often credited his direction in life to a teacher who took her students outside regularly and nurtured his interest in birds after seeing his drawing of a blue jay.
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