“Girls Outside” is a fun outdoor education program for girls that is funded by a grant from the Middlesex County Community Foundation. Girls Outside has recently partnered with YMCA Kids’ Korner programs at Snow, Macdonough and Spencer Schools in Middletown to provide fun and educational outdoor activities for girls. The primary objective of this program is to enable more girls and women to have positive outdoor experiences and develop the skills, knowledge and comfort level to enjoy some of the many benefits that nature can have in our lives. The program teaches environmental and science education (identifying basic trees and plants, vernal pool studies) and skill building activities (reading trail maps and using a compass) that encourage girls to explore the natural environment and have experiences that develop the confidence to over time be able to explore and connect with nature without an organized group.
The girls joined Lucy Meigs, founder of Everyone Outside, for a series of walking field trips at their individual schools. They kids explored the natural environment of their school grounds and surrounding neighborhoods and Lucy shared some sights with the kids that they had otherwise overlooked. The girls at Macdonough found a patch of grass that smelled like onions and some willow branches that could be formed into shapes. These trips were a lead up to a series of special field trips that the girls were to take to explore the grounds of the Wadsworth Mansion on Wadsworth Street in Middletown.
On April 15th girls from Kids’ Korner at Macdonough School and Spencer School traveled by bus to the Wadsworth Mansion at Long Hill Estate. Lucy Meigs and her helpers guided the girls on a tour of the parklands surrounding the manor. It was a perfect day and perfect weather for the trip. The grounds were beautiful with newly sprouted daffodils and budding trees. The girls were able to walk a wooded trail where Lucy taught them that there were various features on the hike that would appeal to the different senses. They were able to smell a spice bush, skunk cabbage and black birch. The girls especially loved the smell of the black birch which smells distinctly like wintergreen. “Omigosh, this stick smells like gum,” shared Rejoyce. The skunk cabbage, however, was not appreciated. The girls shared a resounding, “Eww” when informed that the inside of the plant is over 70 degrees and smells like old meat. They listened for the sounds of small woodland animals like birds and chipmunks and were able to feel furry leaves. They also learned that Native Americans would use the furry soft leaves to line their moccasins. While on this hike the girls also spotted a “Letterbox” with a booklet for stamps. In time the girls will create their own stamps and learn how to find more letterboxes.
Following the nature hike, both groups met up to have a nice outdoor snack at the rear of Wadsworth Mansion. They were also given a small tour of the downstairs of the mansion. During snack, Lucy played a recording of wood frogs croaking from the pond. The girls couldn’t believe how loud they sounded. After snack, Lucy escorted the girls to the vernal pool on the Wadsworth grounds. She allowed the children to touch a large frog she had caught. She taught them that they had to wet their hands before touching it. They also used special magnifying pond viewers to look at pond water extracted from the vernal pool. Lucy was on hand to explain to the girls just what they were discovering in each scoop of water.
The girls had a great time on their trip and are looking forward to the next trip scheduled in May. The Middlesex YMCA is fortunate to have partnered with Girls Outside and to be able to offer our children this fantastic experience. We thank the Middlesex County Community Foundation for the grant funding which has made this program possible. For more information about nature activities that you and your family can participate in please visit www.everyoneoutside.org. It's a great time of year to get outside with your family!