Naturalists and Educators to Know About in Western MA
Support your live, local, free-lance, free-range, grass-fed naturalist!
Some naturalists and educators are funded by a school or a camp. Others hang up their shingle and take the kids into the woods. This post offers a smattering of freelance naturalists in Western MA. They are people who are highly qualified and experienced educators and naturalists who teach children about their local environment, wilderness survival skills, nature science and social skills. I interviewed many of these people in preparing this post, and I regret not being able to capture the joy in their voices when they talked about how much they love what they do!
Twenty years ago, Sarah Pirtle created Journey Camp, a peace-building camp that helps children develop earth awareness while fostering their creativity. Her goal is for children to have a “deep experience of feeling close to nature.” As a prolific creator, Sarah also writes books, curriculum, and songs that support a world in which humans respect each other and the natural world. She loves to combine ecological awareness and the arts, and recently created an 18 feet humpbacked whale puppet that a dozen kids can get inside and move!
At Journey Camp, the students create characters and stories which help them to understand the connection that people have to the earth. Sarah has two summer programs. One is based out of Woolman Hill in Deerfield, MA. A newer one was launched in the Hilltowns at Taproot Commons Farm in Cummington, MA a few years ago with the help of Hilltown Families founder, Sienna Wildfield.
Neill Bovaird, founder of Wolf Tree Programs in Montague, MA, offers a variety of courses in primitive technologies, wilderness living skills and animal tracking for both children and adults. Liz Gardner states, “Without exception, our daughter comes home brimming with happiness and enthusiasm for her time at Roots. “ I have heard this exact sentiment from a number of children whom I have known who have studied with Neill. He helps children tap into the joyful, crazy, wonder of being outside. Neill offers programs to homeschooling students, summer camps, vacation camps, and programs for adults.
Dr. Augie’s science and nature programs was founded by Lisa Provencher. Lisa is an etymologist and evolutionary biologist who operates out of Pittsfield, MA in Berkshire County. She enjoys offering programs to children where they get to learn real science and interact with complicated ideas and vocabulary. Her students learn about scientific concepts, and she delights with them when they learn new words or understand new ideas. She said “Kids can use words like parasitize. They are excited to use the big words. They want to learn.”
Generally working with kids who are from 7 to 12 years old, Lisa has run robotics camps, organized three Berkshire BioBlitzes and is offering a smorgasbord of courses this summer, including “Color in Nature” and “Entomology for Kids.” You can read more about her classes at draugies.wordpress.com.
Frank Grindrod of Earthwork Wilderness Survival School is the ultimate Nature Guy. He created the school to share his love of the wilderness with children and adults. His website is full of both private and public offerings to teach people about wilderness skills, plant and tree ID and tracking. He not only cares about what he teaches, but he is also careful about how he teaches it. Frank works all over the Pioneer Valley with summer camp programs in Conway, Greenfield, Shutesbury and South Deerfield.
Rachel Roberts created Sprouts Homeschool Science Program and is a freelance educator extraordinaire. Active in the homeschool community, Rachel also offers afterschool learning opportunities at libraries and community centers in Franklin County with the help of funding from local cultural councils. Rachel says, “I love the “a-ha” moments when something clicks and the learner gets so excited. That’s the best. I like to teach because I like working with people to help them understand something better together – I’m not the dump truck; I don’t just dump info and move on. I like to discuss, explore, experience the topics with my students as much as possible.” In the Sprouts program, home-schooling families get a monthly outline of the Science Curriculum, complete with activities, readings and educational activities. Participants in the program can also meet for a monthly learning experience with Rachel and others program participants.
Dawn Ward teaches workshops and courses through her organization Growing up with Nature. She specializes in programs for very young children, and is frequently invited by preschools and libraries to create programs that engage the littlest naturalists. In her programs, Dawn strives to reach children with the important concepts by using literature, poems, art and exploration. Her programs also always have a hands-on component. Dawn also has a traveling program for Old Home Days and picnics. Dawn lives in Montague, and is active in Turners Falls, Leveret, Millers Falls, Erving and Wendell. firstname.lastname@example.org
The work that these people are doing is inspiring. I am even more inspired, though, by the fact that they did it! They found a way to make a living doing what they love and connecting people to the earth.
Do you know a independent naturalist you’d like to tell us about? Post below in the comment field and be sure to leave a link too!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Theresa Heary-Selah — Theresa is a teacher and a freelance writer, making her home in Greenfield, MA and Wright, NY with her family. She teaches at S.H.I.N.E. (Students at Home in New England), a social and academic support program for middle school students in the Pioneer Valley, and writes about home-schooling and technology. Theresa’s interests include home-schooling, gardening, cooking, hiking, and dancing.