Kids in the Woods
The Kids in the Woods program at Westwood, which began in 2013, connects 6th-grade students with local urban forests, creeks, and birds. The Kids in the Woods program is a collaboration between Westwood and several organizations - the USDA Forest Service, the University of Florida's School of Forest Resources and Conservation, the Alachua County School District, the City of Gainesville's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, and the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department. Students gain first–hand experience with the scientific method by conducting outdoor studies about bird feeding behavior, creek erosion and deposition, and tree identification and benefits.
The bird observation study teaches students about the scientific method while enjoying the outdoors and getting to know local bird species. Students prepare for the study by learning to identify local birds (such as the Carolina wren and the blue jay), use binoculars, and accurately record data. Students form hypotheses about the number of bird visits they expect based on whether there is a predator or not on the feeder they are observing.
The creek erosion study gives students an opportunity to learn firsthand about creek erosion and deposition. Donning rubber boots, students get into the water to measure the width and the depth of transects set up along a section of a creek in nearby Loblolly Woods Nature Park. Using this data, students graph out stream profiles and compare them to the previous year’s profiles. This kind of outdoor learning can help students grasp abstract concepts such as erosion and deposition.
Through the urban tree benefits study, students learn how to identify and measure local tree species. They use this information to calculate the benefits of trees on two different plots – one at the school and one in Loblolly Woods - using the National Tree Benefit Calculator. Students continue to build research skills by making observations, collecting data, and making predictions about which of the two study sites provide more ecosystem benefits to the community.
Additionally, there is a campout in the spring for sixty 6th grade students who are selected through a lottery. Students pitch their own tents, turning Westwood Middle School's grassy field into a campground for the night. They also participate in a range of evening activities, including a night hike in Loblolly Woods Nature Park, a campfire complete with s’mores, and star gazing courtesy of the Alachua Astronomy Club.
Volunteering is a great way to get involved with this program. If you would like more information about volunteer opportunities, please contact the program coordinator at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For students that want even more fun outdoors, the Kids in the Woods team now offers a summer camp called Camp Kids in the Woods at the Austin Cary Forest. This week-long camp is offered two times each summer at the University of Florida’s Austin Cary Forest and is for rising 7th through 10th graders. Visit the camp website for more information.