For the second year in a row, I volunteered with the National Wildlife Federation for their Hike and Seek in Bemis Woods Forest Preserve in Suburban Chicago. Last year, I was frogman and taught children interesting facts about frogs including how to identify some of their calls.
Last year, it either rained early in the day or threatened storms, so the turnout was not as high as hoped. This year it was a gorgeous fall day with temperatures hitting 80 degrees. This meant there would be a better than hoped for attendance.
The Hike and Seek is an event designed to get families with young kids excited about wildlife and the outdoors. For a small donations running from $20-$30 dollars to the National Wildlife Federation, families come and hike a short trail just over one mile. Stretched out over the one mile trail are five stations manned by naturalists and volunteers that highlight one part of the animal kingdom. There is an activity and a little presentation given by each of the volunteers. Once completed the children are given a sticker to show they completed the activity.
Last year I had a recording of frog sounds and the children matched the calls to the pictures of frogs and toads I had spread out on the display table. I found that what the children and families enjoyed the most was my personal recollection of encounters I have had with frogs and toads during my adventures including a run in with a giant toad in Costa Rica.
I requested to resume my role as frogman this year. I was thrown a curve ball by NWF when I arrived this year at Bemis Woods. This year, they highlighted turtles at the reptile booth. This initially did not throw me off, but I did not have any great personal encounters with turtles that I could immediately think of. This year, I was also matched with another volunteer, which was nice because there is a lot of downtime, so I had someone to talk to and help.
The main activity was rock painting. We were provided with hundreds of rocks, beady eyes, shells, legs, and glue. The idea was the children would make the rocks look like turtle.
We were at station three at the exact middle of the trail. This year they released groups starting in each direction. One started at five and the other started with station one. This meant all groups would meet in the middle at our station at one time.
After sitting around doing nothing for an hour a cute little girl and boy with mom came by, and we quizzed the shy girl about her knowledge of turtles and then let her paint. This turned out to be the calm before the storm as all of a sudden a mass of children with parents came from each direction. Each child wanted to paint a rock and get a sticker.
It turned out to be CHAOS! We were overwhelmed with the appearance of so many groups at one time. We only partitioned half of the table to paint, so we quickly expanded the art room by pulling the tarp over the rest of the table. We did not have enough time to hand out stickers, quiz children on turtles, and help with the painting, but we did our best.
At about 2 p.m. my partner had to go. At the same time we were running low on rocks and completely out of beady eyes. The line of children wanting to paint did not seem to end. It was like a Saving Private Ryan Moment. Everything began to move in slow motion. Nooooooooooooo, I thought fearing the worst.
As a former substitute teacher, I am aware of the chaos that can develop when children show up and there is nothing for them to do. The parents had paid good money to have their children entertained, and I feared they would be equally disappointed when they showed up and their children were blocked from turtle painting fun. I could just see them all saying “great event, but the reptile station was lame.” I came equipped with my business cards hoping to lure new readers to my blog, but who would want to read a blogger who cannot even entertain a group of young kids.
Then a magical thing happened. I told the first group of kids that we were unfortunately out of rocks. I had no idea what to do for the five to seven minutes I was supposed to entertain them. The kids had a momentary look of disappointment, but their face turned quickly from disappointment to resolve. They walked away into the forest and returned momentarily with their own rocks.
INGENIOUS. I know this does not sound like a big deal, but often times when something goes wrong, people just give up. I expected the kids to pout, ask for their sticker, and take off. No, they improvised, they adapted, they overcame, and soon the children without NWF provided rocks continued to paint turtles without eyes on rocks found by their own initiative. Everyone was happy, and I breathed a sigh of relief knowing I was going to survive.
Another great thing to see was the cooperation among the families and children. Parents whose kids were painting were cognizant of other families waiting and hurried their children along so others had a turn. One young lady collected two rocks and when another family showed up, and I told them they had to find their own rock, she gave the boy her extra rock. She gets the gold star for that selfless act of sharing.
Eventually, the endless stream of turtle painting families and children came to an end, and I returned to the beginning. I got my picture with Ranger Rick, which was my reward for a successful day interacting with families at the National Wildlife Federation Hike and Seek.
Thanks goes out to the National Wildlife Federation for hosting such a fun event and having me as a volunteer. I look forward to next year.
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I love events like this. Something that allows kids to have fun and learn. Glad to see you are good friends with Ranger Rick now.
Jeremy Branham recently posted..Why I took off my pants for Scottevest
I am not sure if Ranger Rick was more popular with the little kids or the big ones 🙂
This sounds like a great event! As a teacher, I started to stress out as I read that you were running out. Kids with nothing to do? Chaos can easily erupt, but these kids were great! “they improvised, they adapted, they overcame” – I loved this story.
It was a plus that the kids had their parents around. That of course makes a huge difference, but on the other hand, I thought they might get upset too since they paid for the event. Everything turned out great in the end. I survived and the kids enjoyed themselves.
An keen outdoorsman, a friend to animals and little kids…such a pleasure knowing you. I must say, you’re quite brave to take on all those little ones. 🙂
Leah Travels recently posted..Central Texas: The Best in Texas Bar-B-Que
It was an adventure of a different sort. I spend a lot of time writing in my den and out in the woods, so it is nice to get out and mix it up with peoples, especially young ones.
Aw, looks like a fun event for kids! Good thing you have had teaching experience and know how to manage this onslaught of crazed young artists 🙂 I doubt the organizers will return to having the frog station next year after this amazingly popular booth…
Leslie (Downtown Traveler) recently posted..Review: 2012 Blood Manor haunted house delivers 3D gore, zombie strippers and campy thrills
You learn teaching to sometimes just go with the flow. Letting the flow take you can usually lead to chaos if kids take charge, but not always. They will probably switch gears again and highlight snakes.
Looks like a great time…Someday, I want to be “frog man.”
D.J. – The World of Deej recently posted..Epcot Food & Wine Festival Survival Guide
Halloween is just around the corner Deej!
Great volunteer activity, Ted! Helping kids learn abt these creatures and all. I will admit the running out of rocks would be the kind of thing that happens to me. But I hope I would get creative like those kids – though one never knows until is under the pressure of parents and sad-faced kids!
Raul (@ilivetotravel) recently posted..My Delta Special Service – a Real Treat – and My Friends’ Reactions
Fortunately, everything turned out ok. Just like when you travel, sometimes you need to go with the flow.
Nicely done. Way to give back, volunteer and entertain some little ones and get the next generation interested in a connection with nature. Kudos.
stay educating, Craig
Craig Zabransky recently posted..Driving The Roads of Scotland – An Adventure in Itself
Thanks Craig, I did my best. I also did my best to get families and kids interested in Traveling Ted 🙂
Kids really do amazing things. How cute they went to find they’re own rocks. I’d love to do something like this, sounds like a lot of fun. I love wildlife and working with kids. Such a rewarding experience.
Kieu ~ GQ trippin recently posted..We Crashed a Wedding in India!
It definitely was rewarding. I spent the rest of the day with a feeling of accomplishment.
not sure we would have been able to handle this sans booze, so way to go!
the lazy travelers recently posted..no travel required
If someone would have handed me a shot, I would have taken it. Sometimes coffee has its limits.
Nice cause, Ted. Kudos to you for getting involved (and patience). Ranger Rick looks dashing btw! 😉
Pola (@jettingaround) recently posted..Photo of the Week: John Hancock Center in Chicago
It was great meeting Ranger Rick in person. It was my reward for a long morning/afternoon.
How fun! It looked like both you and the children had an incredible time. I want to paint a frog rock now. 🙂
Tawny- Captain and Clark recently posted..We are headed to India as CheapOair’s Travelers of the Year!
I wish I would have had time to paint my own rock. Maybe next year.
Wow, this seemed like such a great day. Very sweet of you to do this!
@mrsoaroundworld recently posted..Photos of the Week – White
Thanks Mrs. O, it was fun for me although at times a little stressful.
Frogs, kids, outdoors sounds like hours of endless fun! We have a great volunteering program with underprivileged children in the North of Peru. It is so special to see those smiles on the kids faces, that is what we do it for! Check out our blog about this project in Peru and the great places you can visit while you are there http://www.volunteerinsouthamericablog.org/volunteer-in-north-peru-and-realize-your-dreams-and-those-of-children-in-need-755.html#more-755
It is great to know there are organizations like yours helping kids around the world. I will check out the blog.