Face to Face With the Wild: Kids
It’s a warm and sunny Wednesday in July. After driving past Jesse the moose, some handsome sheep, and innumerable little squirrels I step off the bus with 22 eager campers following. We’re just about to head out for a little walk. But then… I catch one little camper frolicking around in her bare feet.
“Jasmine! Where are your shoes?”
“Shoes?! I don’t need those: I’m a Yukon kid!”
Sometimes it’s the campers who teach us educators about their favorite plants and animals.
On a normal trip to the Preserve it’s easy to get lost in our own experiences. After all, how can you not? When you see golden sunshine through the grass; when you and the little muskox lock eyes; or when one of our guides tells a chilling story. These experiences are what we come for, but we aren’t the only visitors here.
The Yukon Wildlife Preserve sees over one thousand students and campers come through our doors every year. Winter and spring school programs, Swan Haven programs, March Break Nature camp, and summer nature camps are all in our calendar. The Wildlife Preserve has its own department dedicated to bringing enriching and educational experiences to Yukon youth. As an outdoor educator this what first brought me to the Preserve, and it’s also one of the things that I think makes the Preserve a very special place.
Unfortunately, the public doesn’t often get to hear about all of the incredible experiences we offer students and children. If you, like me, are a little too old to attend these wonderful programs I’m here to tell you that you’re also in luck! I’ve done all the running around – the booger wiping, rule giving, question answering, and “yes, you can go pee”ing – so you don’t have to. Join me as I take a walk down Memory Lane, looking back at this last year with our Education team. But be prepared to take chances, make mistakes, get messy. So let’s tie up our shoes and get Face to Face with: The Wild Kids of the Yukon.
A happy student trying on their new favorite hat.
Time to Plan
‘Have we sent all the thank-you cards?’
‘How many more plastic animals do we need to buy?’
‘Where do I even buy a plastic muskox?’
We ruminate at length on these pressing topics. After all, one missing muskox now may break the heart of a muskox-loving little boy eight months later. And so, slowly, we debrief the past year and plan into the next.
February comes creeping up and at this point we (Education and Programming) are a very tiny snowball at the top of a very large hill. Our winter programs are the little kick that gets us going. A modest start to a full year of programming. This time of year, our programs focus on winter ecology and cold weather adaptations.
With a sizeable (750-acre) classroom, we bring students along our trails in order to teach through hands-on experience and keen observation. So, let’s throw on our jackets with the grade sevens and head out for our famous February caribou program!
Campers getting a special experience with one of our caribou bulls.
Slowly, March comes crawling along. By this time, we’re feeling ready for the busy spring and summer seasons. We have our programs all neat and tidy, but the Preserve has turned a somber shade of winter. We’re all aching for something: A little sunlight, some warm weather, a hot cup of cocoa… or, some more students! Last year’s March Break Nature Camp hosted 10 campers, a real VIP experience.
Though we do plan and structure the days, it’s the campers who really have the final say in the day’s events. We want our campers fully engaged, so we try our best to tailor the camp to their interests. If that means spending some extra time with the caribou then we throw on an extra layer, step into the enclosure, and get a closer look at our campers’ favorite ungulates.
Educator Erin Cartan taking her campers to the Gunnar Nilsson & Mickey Lammers Research Forest.
We Talk Swan
As the snow starts to melt and the sun starts to burgeon it’s a HONK, of all things, that prompts our first drive out to Swan Haven. Working with the YG Department of Environment we move our operations to Marsh Lake and start talking Swans with grade two, three, and five classes at the beginning of April.
After our education team gets a Swan Masterclass from bird biologists Jukka Jantunen and Margaret Campbell, we welcome hundreds of students to share the joy of birding with some of our favorite feathered friends. Together we tell the story of Yukon swans, look through scopes to observe their behaviours, play dress-up, and make our own mock-migration. We do all this in hopes of fostering respect and appreciation for all Yukon wildlife.
Manager of Education and Programming, Madison Rushton, trying out our new and improved swan suit.
The Ball Gets Rolling
Though the snow on our peaks is slowly melting by early May, the snowball we call ‘Education and Programming’ is growing both in size and speed. It’s now time for our Spring Programs! Life is waking up and starting to buzz here on the Preserve. Together with the students we try to find each and every little buzz, bumble, and sign of life. Our Yukon-famous benthic macroinvertebrate studies (a.k.a. lookin’ for bugs in the pond), large scale Predator vs. Prey game, and animal charades are crowd pleasers amongst the little ones. Lots of fun and games for these students, and they haven’t the slightest clue they’re actually learning.
Once that’s all over, snow is the last thing on anyone’s mind. But, our ‘Education and Programming’ snowball is reaching its crescendo with the YWP Summer Nature Camps! It’s all hands on-deck at this point; three wildlife educators, nine weeks of camp, and nearly two hundred campers. The whirlwind that ensues is filled with a tremendous amount of fun. Fishing, barbecues, forts, flower picking, popsicles, dress-up, story time, nap-time, camp-time, and eventually, home-time are all to be expected.
At last, our ears ringing from nearly seven months of outdoor education and nature programming, we pat each other on the back and have our own well-deserved nap-time. But don’t forget, once we’re ready to open our eyes and stretch our arms, we get to do it all over again!
Students dip-netting for all the bugs and critters they can find.
While teaching at the Preserve I often think back to my own outdoor education experiences as a child. Downtown Toronto certainly offered less opportunities than the pristine boreal, but the richness of those experiences was all the same.
“Seth! Where are your shoes?”
“Shoes?! I don’t need shoes, I’m a wolf!”
Visitor Services Coordinator
Passionate about the environment, art, and education, Seth has been working as an environmental educator since 2017. Off the preserve, you can find him playing in the mountains; on skis in the winter and with a paddle in the summer. Having moved to the Yukon and joined the preserve in April 2022, he’s excited to learn and explore!
Great piece of writing Seth, can’t wait for my grandchild to experience the summer camp!