Getting Kids into Nature at NCOS

Tue, 03/06/2018 - 09:54 -- Kelly Hildner

Twelve classrooms, 300 students, 1500 plants, and lots of smiles and ‘wow’ moments for students describe, in a nutshell, the first three months of the NCOS Kids in Nature 2 program (KIN2). Funded by the State Coastal Conservancy, these numbers represent just the beginning of a program that connects students to our coastal resources at NCOS.

Roosevelt Elementary students proudly display stacks of pots showing how many plants they helped plant during a Kids in Nature 2 event.

So far, multiple classrooms from Isla Vista Elementary, Roosevelt Elementary in Santa Barbara, and Righetti High School in Santa Maria have visited NCOS to learn about wetland ecology and participate in restoration through planting. CCBER staff and UCSB interns led the K-12 students in group hands-on activities described below that enhanced their understanding and appreciation of the natural world, and empowered the students to see themselves as part of the solution to environmental challenges.

An enthusiastic and talented parent (Albert DiPadova) created a stylish video montage of the most recent KIN2 day at NCOS.


Bird Identification

Using binoculars, a spotting scope, and labeled photos, students are taught to observe color pattern, size, and calls of birds in the wetland. They learn to pick up clues about a bird’s identity and decipher for themselves what they are seeing. Learning how to use the equipment and the opportunity to see details never seen before provide a new perspective on the natural world. Favorite birds include turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks, black phoebes, American coots, Anna’s hummingbirds, great blue herons, and many more. Pictured on the right: Roosevelt Elementary 4th graders observing birds in Devereux Slough.


Wetland Food Webs

Students participate in an activity that teaches the different parts of a food web, including producers, primary consumers, secondary consumers, tertiary consumers, and decomposers in terrestrial and marine food chains and how organisms get the energy they need to survive. Through role playing, the students learn that each part of the food web has a unique place in a wetland ecosystem and that missing links can weaken the web. This experience helps students see the value in even the smallest component of the web.


Plant Adaptations

Why do plants that grow in certain areas tend to look similar to each other but different from plants growing in other areas?  Students learn about the unique adaptations of some of the salt marsh and wetland plants at NCOS. By pointing out the different sizes, shapes and textures of plants, and drawing their attention to the different types of habitats and plant communities around them that make up an ecosystem, staff help the students develop the tools to observe the world around them. Plants include Schoenoplectus californicus (tule or bulrush) which is adapted to low soil oxygen, and Salicornia pacifica (pickleweed) and Distichlis spicata (saltgrass) which are adapted to tolerate high salinity. Pictured on the left: Roosevelt Elementary students theorize about the adaptive significance of the tall and hollow nature of freshwater marsh plants. These experiences help students learn to look more closely at their environment because they have the tools to understand what they are seeing.


Coastal Ecosystem Services

Using watering cans to flood physical models with miniature buildings from board games set in natural and urban settings, students develop an understanding about basic hydrologic principles and wetland function. Through stories about the history of the golf course, a filled wetland, and the restoration of NCOS, they learn why wetlands are unique ecosystems that merit protection. Up to 90% of California wetlands have been lost or filled, and wetlands play a critical role in ecosystem stability, promote nutrient cycling, support biodiversity, filter water, serve as a natural buffer to flooding, and protect our coastlines and local infrastructure.


Hands-on Habitat Restoration

Students develop a sense of ownership and empowerment by helping to plant seedlings on the project site along side CCBER staff and UCSB students. Students learn the names of native wetland and coastal sage scrub plants as part of that process. So far this school year, KIN 2 participants have planted over 1500 native plants. These students feel connected physically to this place on the landscape and will be able to return over their lifetime to follow the fate of their plants! Pictured on the right: 4th graders from Roosevelt Elementary making a real difference at NCOS.


One of CCBER's goals in the NCOS restoration project is to offer opportunities for students and volunteers to gain experience in all aspects of restoration ecology. The Kids in Nature 2 program is an integral part of meeting that goal.

Excited about connecting with nature, Roosevelt Elementary students smile and jump for joy after learning and working at NCOS.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018 - 09:15