During the 2010-11 school year, Sure Foot Adventures is again working with students at Kingfisher Academy in Atlanta. Our Explorers Club is going on urban explorations and seeking geocaches. Our Chicken Team is raising chickens on campus. And our High Adventure Club is going on day hikes and backpacking trips.
The High Adventure Club is made up of Kingfisher’s middle school students – ages 10-14. And on a blustery day in October, we went on our first day hike of the year at Mount Arabia in Dekalb County.
There was a tornado watch in Cobb County and we almost canceled the hike as a result. But as always, I had been watching the doppler radar all morning and knew there was a good chance the storms wouldn’t arrive until late afternoon. So, we tentatively set out with the assumption that our hike would be cut short. I even planned a route that would keep us close enough to the bus that we could make a quick exit.
Instead of storms, we were greeted with warm breezes and even some blue sky on the mountain. Though our group hiked 4-5 miles, the students were strong enough hikers that we were able to spend much our time exploring the particularly interesting parts of Arabia-Davidson Park.
We explored an area of the mountain that had been mined for its granite, finding many remnants from the mining operation. We cleaned up an area around a lake, carrying the trash back to the proper receptacle in the parking lot. It was warm enough that the students even took their shoes off and waded in pools at the mountain’s peak. Some of them remembered a trip here last winter when the pools were full of ice. They asked why there was no ice this time and I pointed out that they were wearing short-sleeved shirts!
All morning, I was watching the skies and dreading the coming rain that would surely soak us to the bone. The students were not prepared with proper rain gear and I worried that rain would destroy their enjoyment of the hike. Instead the students told me about how excited they were about hiking in the rain! They wanted to get wet! What a difference from last year when our first day hike was punctuated by rain and the students grumbled and complained. I’m really happy to see them feel more and more comfortable in nature.
Towards the end of our hike, I pulled out my GPS and handed it to the students so they could find two geocaches hidden in the park. Almost immediately after this artificial treasure hunt, one student found and caught a natural treasure: a small lizard. And then another young woman caught a tiny frog. Watching the students hold and study these animals reminded me of Richard Louv’s assertion (in Last Child in the Woods) that the greatest form of education is when we can truly touch, feel, and immerse ourselves in nature without the walls and bars of a zoo or science classroom.
Though I struggle with the question of how long to allow kids to hold lizards (too much handling is bad for the animal), I usual come down on the side of letting them truly connect with the animal. What better way to gain an appreciation for the natural world than to care for a small animal? The students learned to look closely and carefully and to be gentle with creation. I don’t believe it’s possible to take a hike with kids and not become just a little bit more of a conservationist.
As we approached the bus at the end of our day hike, our legs were tired, but everyone had smiles on their faces – until the first rain drops began to fall and I told the students to get in the bus. They wanted to walk further and let the rain soak them!
“The Fall Colors of Mount Arabia“