So…all my years of schooling. The classes. The conferences and special trainings. The Continuing Education courses, the planning, the research, and it all comes down to this: I wonder if my coat will fit over my wings?
It was February 13th and time for the annual Fairy House Festival at Latta Plantation Nature Preserve. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this event, it is hosted every year by the Latta Plantation Nature Center, part of Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation, and it is one of our most popular events. It wasn’t in the job description I had seen when applying for the job, but assisting with special events like the FHF falls under the “unwritten duties” part of being an Environmental Educator for Mecklenburg County. Dressing up for the event, on the other hand, is just plain fun. And so I found myself standing once more upon the shore of Mountain Island Lake, dressed in my fairy finest, glitter bombing five year olds.
It may seem silly and childish to dress up like a fairy, but let me the first to assure you that it is a great teaching tool. All too often, interpreters are too afraid to be a little silly with their programming. We’re so focused on getting our message across to the participants that we tend to forget about making the message fun. And as we all know, a fun message is a memorable message. You may be asking yourself “Okay, but what do glitter and fairy wings have to do with environmental education???” To which I reply: everything. My department uses events like the FHF to introduce the public to habitat preservation, the basics of recycling, and native wildlife. Our overall goal for the event is to get people out to the preserve and expose them to nature. Now, a five year old child might not remember Miss Christine, Environmental Educator, telling her all about taking care of the woods. However, this same five year old will definitely remember a giant fairy asking her to help take care of the woods. When the message is delivered in a fun and exciting way, the message is made memorable!
Making the message memorable can require a little extra creativity on our part as interpreters. Standing up in front of group and lecturing them for an hour or more isn’t fun, it’s boring. And a boring message is easily forgotten. Ramp up the fun and excitement by engaging all of your audience’s senses. If you’re discussing trees, take them outside and let them touch smell, see, listen to, and (in some cases) taste the trees! If you’re talking about habitats, have them build their own shelters in the woods! If you just want to expose people to the outdoors, have a fairy house building contest! Five year olds won’t remember all the facts and figures from a program like the FHF, but they will remember visiting the woods and enjoying themselves, which is what we wanted in the first place. So when planning a program, remember to loosen up and have a little fun!