Fourth-graders get ‘hands-on education’ at Penn State’s Arboretum

bmilazzo@centredaily.comApril 25, 2014 

— Hands were muddy, jeans had grass stains, some arms and hands were scratched. But the nearly 600 State College Area School District fourth-graders said it was all worth it.

The Arboretum at Penn State hosted its fifth annual Arbor Day event Friday, with more than a dozen activities for the pupils to experience. Organizers said the mission was to help kids understand nature and the value of becoming good stewards of the earth.

“We want to make it real for the kids,” said Kate Reeder, event and marketing coordinator at The Arboretum. “In school, sometimes there is not much to say other than Johnny Appleseed, but this way they learn from hands-on education.”

The students learned about pollination, bugs, soil and other topics, and were able to scale one of two oak trees on site and plant 12 new trees near Bigler Road.

The trees include the paw-paw, buckeye, red maple, Oriental spruce and honey locust, said Shari Edelson, director of horticulture at the university. Edelson said each student had a different role in the planting process.

Kim Steiner, professor of forest biology and director of the Arboretum, said the oak trees where the students were climbing might be 100 years old.

“They’re old, but it shows the kids how long it takes for the trees to grow,” Steiner said. “It puts things in perspective for them.”

Houserville Elementary School teacher Michele Allen said the event gave her students lessons not found in the classroom.

“They’re interactive with the activities,” Allen said. “That’s one of the best things for them, so they can see firsthand the effects of nature.”

Houserville fourth-grader Madeline Diehl, 10, enjoyed being outdoors, and drawing pictures of plants and animals that she turned into stickers.

Classmate Stephen Elliott, 9, enjoyed climbing the oak tree.

“I was pretty good at it,” Stephen said hesitantly. “That was the best for me though. It was a lot of fun.”

Plans are already in the works for an expanded event next year, thanks to the planned opening of the Children’s Garden early this summer.

Children’s Garden educator Linda Duerr said it’s been a five-year process from the first idea through the time it takes to open to the public. The garden will re-create the landscape of Happy Valley, with scaled-down versions of ridges, valleys and waterways, and will have an interactive vegetable garden and plant life native to Pennsylvania.

“That’s just another way we can helps kids become in touch with where they live,” Duerr said.

The Village at Penn State sponsored Friday’s event. All of the presenters and group leaders who guided the students through the stations were volunteers. Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center provided animals.

Britney Milazzo can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @ M11azzo.

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