Nature preschoolers treat penguin doll at play clinic

Children Need Nature: An Emergent Curriculum Study

Children Need NatureBy Kristina Eaddy, Sweet Gum Classroom Lead Teacher

Children Need Nature is a monthly blog column from our Nature Preschool program. Read more posts here.

Why do leaves change colors? What is under the frozen ice? And where do birds go during the winter? These are questions we hear every day, as Nature Preschool teachers. Young children’s minds are full of wonders and questions, trying to learn about, connect with, and understand the world they are surrounded by.

At Nature Preschool, we nurture this natural curiosity in young children by following the emergent curriculum approach. The goal of an emergent curriculum is to create meaningful learning experiences that capture children’s passion, foster inquiry-based experiences, and instill a love for learning. In contrast to a traditional, thematic-teaching approach, topics are not pre-planned in advance nor are they conducted in one- or two-week increments. Instead, a subject of study arises from the interests and developmental needs of the children in a group at any given time. A study can last anywhere from a couple of days to weeks, or even months, depending on how long the interest in the topic persists.

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Tree on Belmont Plateau

Winter 2017 Photography Contest

Tree on Belmont Plateau

By Jenny Ryder, Environmental Art & PR Intern

Winter is in full swing in Southeast PA (though it doesn’t always feel like it), and we’re trying our best to get outside every day despite the icy chill in the air. We encourage you to do the same—get out of your home/office/classroom, etc. and take a photograph for our Winter 2017 Photo Contest!

This year, one of my resolutions is to find room in my heart for the wintertime by finding new ways to appreciate nature throughout the cold, dead months. The colors of winter are one of the most striking aesthetic features of the season, with its muted lavender and grey skies, the stark silhouettes of white birch trees in a tangled sea of naked branches and buds. With the warm snow days we’ve been getting (as a consequence of global climate change), I’ve begun to appreciate the big snowflakes these days offer us. If you look real quick before it melts on your chest, you’ll be able to see each flake’s fascinating little pattern fade away.

How do you relish in winter’s gentle light and fierce beauty? Where do you connect with nature when the grass is matted down with snow? Are you desperate to see some more snow on the ground? Bring your camera with you to capture a sliver of the season’s magnificence and submit a photo anytime between now and February 28th! Three winners will be selected by a staff committee.

Guidelines

The rules are simple:

      • The photo must have been taken this January or February
      • The photo must be taken in the Philadelphia area
      • The photo must be outdoors or feature the outdoors
      • The photo must be your own creation and its publication may not violate the rights of any third party
      • Photos must be submitted by 5pm on February 28.

Please note:

  • No explicit or offensive photos.  The Schuylkill Center reserves the right to determine whether a photo is explicit or offensive.
  • By submitting a photo, you grant the Schuylkill Center non-exclusive rights to reproduce your image.  You maintain copyright and you will be credited.
  • Only 3 submissions per person will be accepted.
  • Winners will be chosen by a panel of Schuylkill Center staff.

How to Submit a Photo:

  • Email your photo to Environmental Art & PR Intern, Jenny, at jenny@schuylkillcenter.org with the subject line “2017 Photo Contest”

We look forward to finding out how you see the cold season, in the city and beyond – submit a photo now!

Featured photo: Stephanie (@Cattandco). 2015.

Plants on classroom windowsill

Bringing Nature into the Classroom

By Damien Ruffner, School Programs Manager

Here at the Schuylkill Center, we set yearly themes. It doesn’t necessarily dictate all of our goals and events throughout the year. Rather it is an ongoing conversation that the staff members have that consequently is reflected in our programming. In 2015 we marked our 50th anniversary, working these celebrations into many aspects of our work. In 2016 our theme was climate change. For 2017 the conversation around the Center is “What does environmental education look like in the 21st century?” It’s a simple enough question, but the answer is not so simple. We’re so early into this span, and who knows what kind of advancements in technology will shape the later part of the century?

My biggest goal, and first step, in answering this question is reminding people that nature is not “over there.” It’s easy to think that we live in civilization, and nature is some destination. There has been this separation in the 20th century of nature and people. That has to change if we want to move forward with environmental education. The great outdoors is not a place you drive to, pay an admission price to get into, and then take a few pictures of. It’s all around us, all the time. It’s in the trees planted along Ben Franklin Parkway. It’s in the grass behind your house. It’s in the fields we mow to play baseball.

My first introduction to nature was in my classroom. Our principal, and lead teacher, brought the outdoors into our world. She had animal stations that we were in charge of. She had more plant species than I can remember (all native to the Mid-Atlantic region) and it was our responsibility to care for them. When I was younger, I thought it was busy work. Put a ten-year-old in charge of the plants for this week and he can almost babysit himself. It’ll focus his energy and keep him from disrupting class with his friends, as ten-year-olds tend to do. Looking back now I see the true purpose. It was to foster an appreciation of plants and animals I never would have come in contact with. I began to care for these species even though I was never taught a single fact about them. I’d go home and water the wilting plants my mother had on the windowsills. I’d find box turtles in my back yard and return them to the forest. I caught and showed my mother salamanders, much to her dismay, before returning them to the stream that ran through my neighborhood.

The easiest way to foster an appreciation of the outdoors is to simply introduce a student to the natural world. With limited resources, and ever growing testing schedules, a trip to a place like the Schuylkill Center might be out of reach. So I urge all teachers to bring the outdoors inside. Bring some plants in to decorate your room and assign students to take care of them. Bring in a pet like a hamster or snake and keep it in the room where students can not only see it, but get used to it. Make it a part of their everyday lives and slowly, but surely, nature will not be “over there.”

GirlMS

How to Be Like the Glaciers Melting

Guest contributor Leslie Birch, 2014-2015 LandLab Resident Artist

A few years ago I sat at my computer reading the latest on the demise of the glaciers in the Arctic. I was angry with the polluting corporations, fed up with the greed of the oil industry, disgusted by people’s consumption, and alienated by a government ruled by lobbyists. I felt frozen, as if calamity had already happened; some days I was even bleak about the future. My home thermostat was set to 69, two of my computers were on, I was surrounded by electronic parts for a project and I was getting ready to drive to Whole Foods in a Honda Element wearing a puffy NorthFace jacket picturing a tall Chai Latte. Feel free to laugh, as I’m certainly laughing now as I write this. How long did it take me to figure out that I was the problem?

RavineA2

Luckily for me a a few years ago I also discovered the Schuylkill Center’s LandLab program and started an investigation of a gully that had formed from stormwater runoff on the southeastern side of the Center’s property near Port Royal Ave. This water finds its way down to Wind Dance Pond, where it eventually overflows into the stream. With the help of Stroud Water Research Center I was able to develop a monitoring system to measure the changing depths of the stream. While this was an interesting project, what is pertinent is the fact that I was forced to face climate change head on. Philly is getting hotter and wetter, and while the Center can’t stop mother nature’s waters it can encourage artists like me to communicate the problem and get involved.

ClimateDisrupted

After the project was over, the Center asked me to collaborate on two other art/education projects dealing with water issues, thanks to a grant from CUSP (Climate & Urban Systems Partnership). CUSP is working on preparing Philadelphia for the future issues brought by climate change and they work locally getting neighborhoods on board using friendly techniques. I decided to join their efforts and have become part of a team of organizations and individuals starting conversations, offering education and demonstrating mitigation techniques.Thanks to their workshops I’ve learned how to discuss this topic without scaring people, have discovered what other partner cities are doing to face the same issues and have attended lectures by experts in the field. I should mention that I don’t have a science background, but I do consider myself a citizen scientist. CUSP’s strength is its ability to bring all types of people together, and later in the year I worked with another member artist to create the first climate change art festival under their umbrella in Fishtown. It was exciting to create my own art on the topic of corn and weather, and fascinating to see how people expressed their climate concerns using mixed media, including spoken word and music. The Schuylkill Center’s fall 2016 exhibition on climate change was part of the same grant and has brought together even more artists and enabled more people to join the conversation.

PublicLab

As you can see, what started as a small project has snowballed, and I find myself looking for other ways to combine my interests to work on the problems of climate change. One of my strengths is working with electronics, so I recently joined Public Lab, a grassroots movement using DIY techniques to address environmental concerns. I attended their LeafFest gathering, which was a weekend camping trip where members demonstrated their latest environmental work including solar balloons, an Arduino modem style device and a trail cam. I learned about a project they are developing which uses a houseplant and aquarium pump to help reduce toxins in the air. They sent me home with those materials and soon I’ll be creating a tutorial for the project that can be shared around the world. It’s all part of the mission to offer open source methods to monitor and mitigate environmental issues.

So, having come from a state of being frozen like a glacier, I too am melting. There are many small changes that can help this planet,and I’m starting to make them part of my life. Nowadays I’m walking to the grocery store with my husband. It’s great exercise, less stressful and certainly kinder to the environment. I recently learned just how important it is to give feedback to our government officials about environmental matters. So, I’ve returned to my old ways of calling legislators and writing emails. Now I’m learning how to combine art and activism through free webinars from The Center for Artistic Activism. Someday I hope to engage other groups and artists in work that goes beyond education and actually encourages others to make changes.

PublicLabGroup

My story isn’t “yea, me” because there is probably a lot more I can do to serve this world. However, it is a huge thank you to the Schuylkill Center for helping me to realize that by working on one small problem I would gather the courage to do more. There is a reason for the Center’s commitment to the arts and it goes beyond appreciation for beauty; it’s another strategy for voice and change. We all have the ability to do more, whether it be to add water-loving plants to our yard, to make a roof reflective, to buy our food locally or to just have a conversation about the environment with our neighbor. Doing one small thing makes all the difference. What kind of strategy or skill can you offer to help Philadelphia prepare for the changes that are already beginning?

2017 Calendar january feature_Jake Beckman

Reflection of Environmental Art and Time: January

By Liz Jelsomine, Environmental Art & Public Relations Intern

Editor’s note: The Schuylkill Center produced a wall calendar for 2017 in celebration of the environmental art program.  Throughout the year, we’ll run a monthly post on our blog highlighting the art works featured in that month of the calendar.

Artist Jake Beckman, LandLab Resident Artist from 2014-2015, sheds light to the often over looked world of forest decomposition in his ongoing installation at the Schuylkill Center, Future Non-Object #1: Sol’s Reprise.

Beckman explored the detritus cycle of a forest and its disruption by invasive earthworms by creating sculptural installations that make these hidden processes visible to visitors. This wooden sculptural installation inoculated with local fungal spores will break down over time and enrich soil health. The piece poses questions about where the raw materials of life come from, what happens to “waste” in the forest ecosystem, and how the components of soil can affect the health of an ecosystem. The sculpture exists as a quiet meditation in the forest.

The name of the piece, Future Non-Object #1: Sol’s Reprise, can be related back to multiple sources. Sol Lewitt was an American artist linked to various movements, including Conceptual art and Minimalism. You can see these geometric and modern influences in the design of Future Non-Object #1: Sol’s Reprise. While Lewitt had created his work to last long after his time, as many artists do, Beckman intended for his sculpture to slowly disappear and eventually cease to exist. “Sol” can also play as a double meaning in the sculpture’s title, relating to its meaning in Spanish, “sun.” The sun is a major component of Beckman’s sculpture, in which it helps organisms to grow and aid in the decomposition of the piece.

It has been a year-and-a-half since Beckman’s sculpture has been installed at the Schuylkill Center, but the effects nature, the elements, and decomposition have had can already be seen. The once new and bright wood composing the sculpture is now dark and saturated. Leaves covered the sculpture in the fall, which will continue to play a large role in decomposition. Slight decomposition of the wood can already be seen, and depending on the time of year, various mushrooms of all shapes and sizes have popped up in and around the sculpture.

Beckman’s work is the featured art work for January in our environmental art calendar.  You can view the rest of the calendar and order it here.

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About the Author: Liz Jelsomine is a graduate of Bowling Green State University with a BFA focusing in fine art photography. She provides commercial photography services, is involved in several photography organizations in Philadelphia, and is currently an Environmental Art & PR intern at The Schuylkill Center.

PlayscapeChallengers_RD_12-19-16 001

Children Need Nature: Teaching Peace

Children Need NatureBy Rebecca Dhondt, Sassafras Classroom Lead Teacher

Children Need Nature is a monthly blog column from our Nature Preschool program. Read more posts here.

This time of year tends to be full of excitement and energy.  With so much baking, decorating, and visiting going on there are many stories that Nature Preschoolers are eager to share.  Children naturally begin to compare notes, trying to understand what is happening in their own homes and wondering about the ways others might celebrate teachers in the Sassafras room heard exclamations such as: “I have a Christmas tree too!”, “What is an Elf on the Shelf?” and “How do you play dreidel?”

An early way to help introduce children to cultural inclusion is to build on this natural interest in holidays.  This year the Sassafras class has spent time exploring Hanukkah, Christmas, Winter Solstice, and Kwanzaa.  We have welcomed visitors, read books, played games, sung songs, cooked traditional treats, and had many lively discussions.    The children love learning new things, finding similarities and differences.  After learning about the seven concepts of Kwanzaa one of the preschoolers said: “We don’t celebrate Kwanzaa, but we still care about all those things!” Continue reading

Going Up Gallery Wall

Climate Change Art Spotlight:  Jill Pelto

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

Looking back over the year of environmental art at the Schuylkill Center, one of the highlights of 2016 was our gallery show, Going Up: Climate Change + Philadelphia. Along with the work of seven other artists exploring the various facets of climate change, this show included a new work by Maine artist Jill Pelto which was created specially for this exhibition, called Philadelphia Sea Level Rise Scenarios.

Pelto herself is both an artist and a scientist, and uses her watercolor paintings to communicate scientific data in a more visually compelling way.  Starting with data and charts as the framework for her paintings, she creates landscapes that enliven environmental information. For example, in Landscape of Change, Pelto uses the form of a line graph of declining glacier mass to depict a glacier, while a graph of rising sea levels is represented by deep blue water. Jagged red and orange imagery takes its shape from data on increasing forest fires, and increased atmospheric CO2 is shown as a gray sky. Continue reading

Community Show Opening_1-26-17-01

Call for Art: Community

Jenny Ryder, Environmental Art & PR Intern

With the dawn of a new year approaching, it’s as good a time as ever to commit or re-commit yourself to new year resolutions and opportunities for the future.

At the Schuylkill Center, we are committed to using our various platforms and resources to help inspire meaningful connections between people and nature—whether that be through our Nature Preschool, here on the blog, in our gallery, or just a simple retweet. As we renew our commitment to the planet and our ecosystem this year, we must necessarily renew our commitment to all of those who help us to keep our doors open and programs running: you!

Community, the next gallery show at the Schuylkill Center, will celebrate local artists across different themes and media. The show will be a non-juried, salon-style exhibit open to members and non-members alike, featuring Schuylkill Center staff members, visitors, volunteers, and friends. Works from every artist who submits will be included—find all the details here and submit your work by December 15.

Enquiry Into Plants

Stephanie Jones, Enquiry Into Plants (Historia Plantarum), after Theophrastus: Maturation

 

Anna, Manager of Communications & Digital Strategy at the Schuylkill Center, is looking forward to seeing a snapshot of our community as a whole, “This show is all about creating in community; from all these different crowd-sourced works, something beautiful comes together, something that paints a portrait of who we are.” With only a week left to submit work, we are already so excited about the wide range of submissions we’ve received over the last month.

Last year, volunteers logged over 14,000 hours at the Schuylkill Center, most of them spent keeping our wildlife clinic up and running. Volunteers do everything from watching our front desk during staff meetings, preparing and throwing our many seasonal events, and saving the toads every spring during our ever-growing Toad Detour, among other various duties. We are lucky to have such an involved group of community members, and look forward to being able to showcase some of our friends’ and neighbors’ work on our gallery walls.

Urban Jungle

Elisa Sarantschin, Urban Jungle


 
“This gallery show excites me more than most others because of one thing: perspective.” Elisa, coordinator of our NaturePHL program (more on that in the spring), and longtime former volunteer, is excited to witness the multitude of ways our friends and neighbors see and experience life in our upcoming show. “Giving people space to share their perspective on art, nature, and the Schuylkill Center in any and all ways is phenomenal.” In an aesthetic sense, Elisa’s photographs capture intricate as well as expansive and dynamic elements of the native wildlife in and around the Schuylkill Center. She is interested in seeing the other artistic perspectives by which people find a way to connect back to the natural world.

Cassandra Petruchyk,a volunteer at the wildlife clinic, has memorialized Zelda, the Clinic’s beloved and longtime turkey friend, in a portrait for the show. We’ve received some beautiful botanical depictions of the growth and maturation of local flora, photography of local landscapes and animals, and more.

Not all work will revolve around what we traditionally refer to as “nature.” We’ll encounter themes of memory, time, and all sorts of explorations into the realm of human experience, from poetic engravings to modern dance.

Help us ring in the new year as we renew our commitment to the land and open our doors to art from our local community. Whether or not you plan to submit to the show, thank you for all your support, as we could not do what we do without you.

Community will be accepting submissions until December 15th. There is no submission fee and all artists who submit will be shown in the gallery. The show will open with a reception January 26th at 6pm.

Northern Red Oak

Field Guide: Fallen Leaves

By Jenny Ryder, Environmental Art and PR Intern

Enjoy our mobile field guide as you walk, hike and play in the fall forests. Take in the beauty of crunchy fallen leaves in the city and the forest and easily identify the trees from whence they came.

See other Field Guide posts here.

Tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera)

tuliptree.gifTulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera), commonly referred to as Tulip Poplar, are abundant in the forest at the Schuylkill Center, and their mostly-yellow turning leaves roughly resemble the shape of a cat’s head or—as you might have noticed—a tulip! Another mark of a Tulip tree leaf is their glossy texture and symmetry.

Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra/Quercus borealis)

Northern Red Oak

Querecus means “beautiful tree,” rubra “red,” and borealis, “north” in Latin. As opposed to white oaks, the lobes of the Red Oak’s leaves are pointed instead of round. Red Oak leaves have 7-11 lobes and extend clearly off the center vein. You can find Red Oaks on the streets of Philadelphia, too, as they are able to resist salty sidewalks in the winter time. If the squirrels or deer haven’t eaten them up yet, you can also find bitter acorns among the crunchy Red Oak leaf piles.

Big-tooth Aspen (Populus grandidentata)

Bigtooth Aspen

Big-tooth Aspen can be identified by their easy-to-spot “teeth” on the edges of their simple and relatively round leaf shape, coming to a point at the top. They are usually yellow in the forests this time of year, like many other native leaves. You know you’ve found an Aspen leaf, though, if its stem (petiole) is flattened and perpendicular to the surface of the leaf (see below). The flat stem makes the leaves quake at even the slightest breeze, hence the name of this leaf’s smooth-edged cousin, Quaking Aspen.

Flat stem of Bigtooth Aspen

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)

SCEE6175 Sassafras

Sassafras is a quick one to identify—with their iconic two or three-lobed shape, sometimes they mimic the shape of a mitten, with one lopsided thumblike lobe and a larger one. Either they’re mitten-like, or they resemble something like a three-toed dinosaur footprint, with three distinctly deep lobes. Catch them in any number of their swiftly changing color palettes—from red-brown to yellow-green.

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Red Maple

I’m not usually one to play favorites, but… this might just be my favorite fall leaf. The colors on the leaves of the Red Maple this time of year could be likened to a paint-splattered canvas, blending gorgeous shades of yellow, rich reds, and orange. Sometimes, they’ll have three gentle lobes and other times, two more will tooth out at the bottom for a more recognizable maple shape. They range about 2 to 4 inches wide and tall, and are quite flexible and soft in texture—great for pressing in a book and saving for a dreary winter day. You might recognize the Red Maple’s silhouette from our Schuylkill Center logo at the top of the page!

American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)

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Here on the trails at the Schuylkill Center, the biggest leaf you’ll find likely fell from a Sycamore tree. These look a lot like the familiar shape of a maple leaf, with 3-5 lobes, but with bigger teeth around the edges. Although they normally range from 4 to 9 inches long, staff at the Center have found ones much larger than our faces—up to fourteen inches! Their stems are noticeably enlarged at the end, too, which encase the buds when still attached to the mother tree. Sycamores, also commonly known as buttonwood trees, and are proud members of one of the oldest tree families, Platanaceae, which dates back over 100 million years.

Happy crunching!

Jill Pelto climate change indicator data in Philadelphia

Climate Change: Making the Global Personal Through Art

 By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

What does climate change mean for Philadelphia?  As a large, complex, global process, it’s not an easy concept to wrap our minds around.

As you might expect, climate models project pretty clearly that Philly will face a future that is hotter and wetter.

According to CUSP – the Climate & Urban Systems Partnership , scientists predict that in our region we could experience as many as three additional weeks of days over 90° by the 2020s. All that heat not only is unpleasant, but can also lead to serious health risks.  CUSP also found that the Northeastern US has been experiencing more frequent extreme precipitation events than any other region in the country. Not only will we get more total rain, projections say that climate change will cause heavy downpours to become even more common and intense.  Philly’s tidal rivers are also impacted by projections of sea level rise, and the combination of more rain and rising sea levels is concerning for low-lying homes and infrastructure, like the airport.

It definitely helps to have localized data about climate change to understand the impacts, but even so, we can still not fully understand the implications of climate change, or worse, feel powerless to do anything about it. Art about climate change has a unique potential to make these problems personal and relevant – just what the Schuylkill Center’s latest gallery show strives to do.  As part of the Center’s Year of Climate Change in 2016 and our ongoing effort to talk about climate change in new, relevant ways, our gallery show this fall unpacks what climate change means for our region.  Continue reading