My name is Ella VanKempen and I am a senior at the University of Minnesota - Morris anticipating a degree in Environmental Science. From January to May of 2023, I had the privilege and pleasure of joining the West Central Research and Outreach Center team as the children’s garden education intern. The goal of this internship was to help teach children about the important role that plants, the environment, and horticulture have on their daily lives. To meet this goal, I formulated a curriculum for the children’s garden on key environmental topics by creating activities for the “Backpack Shack”, making the education display, and lead/host field trips. Under the direction of Esther Jordan, we worked together, bounced ideas off each other, and came up with what we thought was best for the 2023 Children’s Garden.
The backpacks hang on the outside of the Backpack Shack; each one contains a different self-guided lesson and activity. This year, the topics consist of: the sun and its energy, MN the land of 10,000 lakes, and the flower life cycle. The associated activities for each are making a UV sensitive bracelet, creating their own lake basins in a sandbox, identifying the parts of a flower, and seeing a flower’s life cycle. Inside the backpack shack is a display of the different layers/horizons of soil and what the function of each is. There is also a visual display of differing soil types and a jar of each of the types. The field trip was open to all local schools for 2nd-5th graders in the month of April and was called “Thank you, plants''. During the field trips, we talked about all the many uses of plants, how they incorporate into our everyday life, and how different species prefer certain growing conditions. My personal favorite activity was the plant potluck. Each group of 3-5 students worked together to make something with plant ingredients (i.e. ants on a log, guacamole, cucumber hummus bites, etc…). They then shared what they created and each got to try one of everything!
The months that I spent working at the WCROC were eye opening in terms of what children already knew about the environment. They know more than I did at their age which is a refreshing concept, meaning that the science and health of our environment is a priority now in the education field. Throughout this internship, I have been able to exercise my creative side and compound it with science and education. I have met a lot of the kids in the area through my field trips, and realized how much I enjoy working in education and public engagement. I have learned through this experience how best to work with elementary aged students and filter their learning through curiosity and exploration.
I specifically would like to acknowledge and extend my sincere thanks to Esther Jordan for guiding me through this work and helping me out with potential future paths in environmental science. This work has been such an engaging and unique experience for me and I am very grateful.
Funding for this program generously provided by the Paul & LaVerne Kopitzke Children's Garden Fund