Monthly Archives: April 2018

Garden Sprouts


Improving observation skills

As an educator at the South Carolina Botanical Garden, I teach classes for people of ages, and on many different topics. My favorite group, by far, is Garden Sprouts, this program is directed at children aged 3-5 with a caregiver, and focuses in on exploring the natural world. In general, the structure is threefold. First, we read a book or explore something inside on the rug this introduces the theme of the day. Second, we take a walk in the Garden, or engage in an activity outside, also related to the theme. Finally, a craft/art project to have something to take home and share. I generally run this program from March to May and September to November,

I have been running this program for many years now and find the challenge of adapting activities to this age group both intriguing and rewarding. I thought it might be useful to share today’s program and what worked, what didn’t, and how the program developed in unexpected ways. Today was the first beautiful spring day we have had in a while so I wanted to do the bulk of the program outside. My theme was using our eyes to look for animals and animal signs in nature (improving our observations skills).

We generally begin with a book on the rug. This time we sat outside on the lawn to enjoy the sunshine. Immediately this decision had strong repercussions. One of the shy children (who had just begun to warm up to me over the course of 4 meetings) was completely thrown by the change, and the rapport and comfort we had established was destroyed. One of the rambunctious children had much more space to run around and catching his attention was very, very difficult. The third child took it more in stride. I don’t think I will try this strategy again.

I had casts of animal paws and scat to talk about signs of animals that we might  find, if we couldn’t see the animals. They were interested in holding the casts, but I was not able to hold their attention enough to be coherent! If I were to redo this with a book, I might use Track that Scat by Lisa Morlock (ages 4-7) or Tracks Count: A Guide to Counting Animal Prints (The Little Naturalist Series) by Steve Engel (Author), Alexander Petersen (Illustrator), (Preschool – K).  Do you have any suggestions of good books for this age group and topic?


Finding foxy


Learning to share (reluctantly)

The second part of the program was a walk to look for animals (stuffed fox, possum, raccoon, skunk and groundhog) and animal tracks, stamps of all four feet of deer, coyote, beaver and raccoon made with Acorn Naturalist stamps. I tried to hide the animals and the tracks, but not too carefully. We played colder/warmer and it did take a while for them to be successful and find the animal. They were very excited to find them, but this was mostly the end of it, the animals did not really prompt any curiosity or interest in them, beyond each wanting to hold them.


Being a beaver

The track prints were much more successful. One child had seen deer prints in a field near his house. One child identified the beaver prints as duck prints, and this led to a discussion of other animals that live near water and have webbed feet,  and ultimately to the beaver. As we were discussing the prints, they noticed that the front and back feet were different, which prompted me to put one child’s hands on the front prints and his feet on the back, he picked up the piece of wood in his mouth, completing the portrait of a beaver. When we found the raccoon prints we compared their hand prints to our hand prints and were able to practice counting to 5 and then to 10. I

Generally, I conclude with a craft or art project. If it was a more normal program I might have the children make track prints or make a print of their feet and hands.  Instead, we concluded this program by visiting the carrots we had sowed 2 weeks ago and spent time watering them. This was a wonderful activity for such a beautiful day and it seemed perfect to do this rather than return inside for a craft. (For the carrot program we read The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss, planted carrots and finger-painted carrots, with varying success).

Like I said, I find this age very rewarding. Things don’t always work out as intended, but their curiosity and joy reminds me to continue to view the word with fresh eyes! And they keep me grounded, I have to always remember that I am never as exciting as a construction truck.









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Surrounded by patterns

by Helena Uber-Wamble

Patterns in nature are everywhere: in the songs of birds, in shapes of flowers and trees, in the rhythm of the waves crashing on the shore and the patterns of sand that are left behind.

Beach glass hunting has been a big pastime in our family for many years. This is where you walk along the shore and look down at the sand, pebbles, and rocks, trying to find that frosted gem of glass that has been smoothed over by the many rolling, tumbling and tossing effects of the waves. The longer the glass is tumbled, the smoother it is.
One would think that finding this glass is easy, and on a good day after a huge storm, waves may have thrown up larger pieces of glass onto the sand. The reality is, though, that most of the glass we find along the shore is smaller than a pencil eraser. I am obsessed with this pastime!

One can spend hours on the beach searching for these glittering gems. It is relaxing, too! You get your dose of Vitamin D, you definitely get some exercise both walking and bending down to pick up glass, and you become relaxed with the repetitive sounds of the waves lapping or crashing against the shoreline. What better way to spend a day, and what a sensory overload!

Patterns – it is all about patterns and rhythms.

What does this have to do with interpretation? Everything! As interpreters, we constantly point out the pattern of a venomous snake vs. a non-venomous one. We look at the patterns of color on birds at the feeders with our audiences…we count and teach about “the leaves of 3, let it be,” and we teach the sounds of frogs and birds based on their repetitive song notes. Likewise, I am sure you all can relate to the counting of the geese in a “v-pattern” even if you aren’t a die-hard bird watcher. It is just what we do — we watch patterns.

Categories: General, Naturalist writing | Leave a comment

Interpretive Standards & You!

For everyone who has taken a CIG, CIT, CIH, CIP and other courses offered by NAI you were graded based on a set of standards developed a number of years ago.  The standards were designed to make sure everyone graduating one of these courses has the same skill set and knowledge needed to be effective in the field.  As with all standard practices, the requirements need to be reviewed for time to time in order to make sure we are keeping up with research, technology and discovery to remain relevant.  After two years of work in an incredibly diverse committee a large set of standards has been compiled through surveys and discussion to propel us into the future.  A website has been set up (link below) for everyone to examine and comment on what was synthesized over those two years.  I encourage everyone reading this to head over and read what has been posted then comment.  Both positive and constructive criticism is desired to help with the project.  We look forward to everyone’s input.

Information on the standards process:

Standards Website:

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Chicken Soup for the Interpreter

I don’t know about your site(s), but here at Latta Plantation, we participate in something called an ARD. And an IDP. And weekly TIPS. Oh and the ABC123, no wait…that’s a Jackson 5 song, my bad. The point is, we love acronyms almost as much as we love feedback. We have annual review dates, and individual development plans, and interpretive planning groups. We plan and review and critique everything. Rather than professional interpreters, sometimes we feel like roaming reviewers.



In addition to group sessions, each employee at the Nature Center sits down with the manager on a regular basis for a 1-on-1 meeting, in which the two can chat about life, the universe, and everything. It’s a valuable opportunity for the manager to offer advice to the interpreter, for either programming development or personal growth. It’s also a time when the interpreter can provide some of their own feedback for the manager, perhaps on how the center is running or a way the manager could provide better support. This is a vital part of why we are successful and absolutely a two-way street: when you feed your interpreters, you feed yourself.


Now, when I say “feed”, I’m not talking about food. Although you should never pass up the opportunity to bribe reward your staff with treats. If you’ve ever met an interpreter, you’ve probably noticed…we’ll do anything for food. Especially interns, whose stomachs resemble nothing so much as a bottomless black hole. What I actually mean is you should feed your staff with feedback, advice, and compliments. Just as food allows one’s body to grow physically, feedback allows us to grow as people and in turn, feeds your site with renewed, excellent interpreters. After all, it isn’t just the stomach that needs fed, it’s the soul too. And, yes, the ego. We all cherish that pat on the back, that “Well done!”, and especially that performance based pay raise! But we *need* that piece of constructive criticism, we have to have a little bit “That was great but…”, and we’ll never grow without a little pruning now and then.


Managers, in case they didn’t teach this in that secret manager night school, make time to talk to your interpreters. See how they’re feeling. Watch their programs and help them grow! Interpreters, watch your mangers (but don’t be creepy about it, okay) and let them know how they can help you! We all need support and we all need feedback, no matter how long we’ve been in the game. And we all need to remember to count our fingers after feeding the interns.



Categories: General, Interpretation tools | Leave a comment

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