By Kaitlyn Bunting
Kaitlyn is a former communications specialist with FLOW. She is also an enthusiastic educator. She has built a deep connection to the land and waters of northern Michigan through extensive time outdoors here. Find her way down a dirt road, pb&j in hand, trailing her energetic dog Oshie.
I am drawn to dramatic landscapes. I would argue that many of us who have settled in the Great Lakes region share this trait. We embrace a pastel summer afterglow or revel with our dogs in fresh snow. Living on one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world, with both a national forest and a national lakeshore nearby, we have access to awe and wonder that many only dreams about.
This week is National Environmental Education Awareness Week, a week to celebrate learning about the environment and highlight the importance of engaging with nature. As kids we innately explore the world around us, asking questions about how and why things are as they are. We notice the lifecycle of frogs as we scoop up tadpoles in the pond. We participate in seed dispersal by blowing dandelions across a field on a late summer afternoon. These early lessons build the foundation for our understanding of our environment, cultivating a desire for learning about the world.
Environmental education naturally highlights this sort of experiential learning.
Whether you spend time identifying shorebirds at a favorite spot along Lake Michigan or at your backyard bird feeder, deepening our connection to our environment is inherently valuable. This can intentionally be interwoven into some of our favorite activities. What creates the best habitat for morels? When are the fish biting? Which herbs grow best together in the garden?
As our world continues to shift and we learn to adapt to the realities of our current climate, I believe that our personal connection to the land and water is vital. I am more likely to go to clean up at the beach where I watched the Northern Lights dance in the sky than one I have never been to. I learned about the spread of Didymo in the Boardman River from the local fly shop that outfits my time on the water. This connection to nature, both individually to the landscape and in communities of shared interests, is the key to stoking and sustaining our enduring effort in the environmental space.
This week, in honor of National Environmental Education Awareness Week, try to lean into the wonder you felt outdoors as a child in whichever way feels authentic and meaningful to you. Stoke the flame of curiosity for yourself or someone you love. For environmental education to succeed, it must build from a foundation of curiosity and relationship to the environment. I hope you can prioritize continuing to build yours.