The Spring 2015 issue of Conservation Connections highlighted the different ways TLC works to connect people with nature, including through partnerships with local organizationse. We will be expanding upon those profiles through posts here on The Dirt starting with this spotlight on Learning Outside!
Spotlight on… Learning Outside
Location: TLC’s J. Logan and Elinor Moore Irvin Nature Preserve
One thing you’ll never hear after school at TLC’s Irvin Farm is the dreaded moan of “I’m bored.” That’s because the kids participating in Learning Outside’s programs are always busy exploring the preserve’s diverse ecosystems and learning new things.
“Kids spend way too much time inside with media,” Learning Outside instructor Maia Derewicz explains. “If nature’s there, kids will gravitate to it. Sometimes they just need a little push to get outside.”
Once outside, there’s something new to discover each day and around every corner. “In fall, it’s all about leaves – their shapes and color and in spring we find lots of flowers, including edible ones like violets,” describes Maia. “In winter, we build fires, find tracks, and learn about shelters. Fort building is big with the kids.”
These kids, ranging in age from 3 to 12, come from different schools and backgrounds. “We try to serve youngsters that wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to be out in these environments,” says Maia. Adding, “kids that tend to get in trouble at school because of ‘big energy’ find Learning Outside to be a safe place where they can feel free and express whatever they need to.”
Growing up, Maia remembers having lots of freedom to release her childhood energy by going outside on her bike and exploring the neighborhood. It wasn’t until she was a student at UNC-Asheville studying music education that she started participating in more involved outdoor activities like camping and hiking. Teaching with Learning Outside is her “dream job,” in part because the program and setting allow kids to ask questions and then find the answers on their own. She adds, “to be able to see the natural processes with your own eyes is different than just reading about them in a book.”
Even though she now spends most weekdays outside, she still likes to get out often and hike with her two sons, Rowan (8) and Wilhem (5), and her husband in the areas around their Chatham County home. Both boys attend Learning Outside programs. “Rowan is definitely happiest when he’s outside,” explains Maia. “He loves to explore and find fossils. He will be down on the ground one second and then pretend being a dinosaur the next.” Maia notes that Wilhem, “loves storytime, so I always ask him about the stories they read.”
Maia hopes that for her children and all the kids she teaches, Learning Outside will “foster an ongoing love, compassion, and empathy that they will carry on to adulthood, making it a much better world in which to live.”
Photos courtesy of Learning Outside