I just finished another week teaching Art Adventures for the NM Museum of Natural History and Science.
Teaching the use of a notebook to record one’s observations is a bit tricky to a random group of 9-11 year olds. And as my partner teacher and good friend remarked again and again this week, it is not regular school, it is camp and supposed to be fun. (Smile.)
Because it IS a fun practice to record one’s thoughts, observations, drawings into a notebook that becomes ones own private concoction. It should be fun, anyway, not drudgery. But for some youngsters, this is unknown territory and a gentle touch is needed, not a hard shove, into the realm of journaling.
One student remarked on the first day in the first hour, “I cannot draw.” I have encountered this mindset in a student at least once each year. And to guide such a one into the act of desiring to respond with words and sketches to places is helped by the excitement of riding out every day to a different ecosystem, and balanced with the fact that some classmates take to notebooks like fish to water and are thus great models to their peers. As well, being exposed to staff members like Mike, amazing naturalist, educator and scientific illustrator, and to a generous program which opens its back doors, slowly a reluctant drawer can be transformed. It was great to hear his mom yesterday tell me, “He really had fun this week.”
The Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque has an other-worldly atmosphere. In part due to the treasure trove of fossils (from our state!) it safeguards in its displays, though in my years bringing regular classes here and as a summer camp educator, I realize the crucial role the staff plays as well. Decisions have been made at many junctures in its close to 25 years that have rounded out an institution that fully serves its state.
It has a devoted and well-organized community of Docents. It has education programs that span early childhood through high school on through adult. It has a hands-on lab in the museum for round-the-clock, multi-age engagement with the four sciences – botany, geology, paleontology and zoology – that the museum espouses. It has two behind-the-scenes collections, staffed with experts, Bio Sciences and Geo Sciences, that are made available on a regular basis for tours. It has an outdoor laboratory it jointly manages with our local public school system.
I have diverted from original subject of teaching naturalist notebook into describing the institution that created the class. Maybe you can see why – the class fits in the context of all the programs surrounding it. Lucky are we to get to be a part of it!!