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?Look at the wonderness we?ve found?

Hooked on Nature collaborated in 2007 with Seattle Neighborhood House to create a replicable model for other Head Start centers across the country. By creating supportive opportunities for parents and children to be outside together and share their childhood traditions of play and exploration, Hooked on Nature hopes to see deepened connections within families and a stronger sense of pride and confidence in their rich, earth-based home cultures.  

Neighborhood House is a Seattle non-profit that helps immigrants, refugees and others with financial, educational and employment needs. For over 35 years, their Head Start program has provided high-quality preschool education to children ages 3 to 5. The children in the program are from immigrant families from many different countries, predominantly in Southeast Asia and East Africa.

Some of the families hardly move beyond the narrow range between their apartment and place of work, and many of the parents work two jobs. So field trips have always part of the program. Traditionally, they are to places like the zoo, which charge admission that immigrant families can often not afford, or they go to places that are not easily accessible to families who often do not own a car. With the help of Hooked on Nature, Head Start has added two extra field trips each year to natural settings that are accessible to families using public transport.  They wanted to encourage families have access to these places for unstructured play and enjoyment of nature.

Parents were encouraged to accompany their children on the trips. Many of them came from rural settings in Asia or Africa, but were unfamiliar with the geography of the Pacific Northwest.  The beach proved to be one of the most popular destinations. One father expressed surprise and the rise and fall of the tides because the large expanses of water he was familiar with were the great lakes of Central Africa.

By contrast a Vietnamese mother was totally delighted to be back on a beach and foraging among the rock pools. She showed the children and teachers many varieties of mollusks, small crabs and edible seaweed that she had collected in Vietnam as a girl.  The teacher said the transformation of the mother was astonishing.  She changed from being emotionally shut down and uncommunicative to being radiant and excited.  Her energy soon attracted the children, teachers and other parents as she shared her finds and her knowledge.

This is exactly the kind of experience that teacher Linda Chugani finds so valuable. She runs a program called ?We learn from our families? which aims to make children aware of the fact that, although many of their parents don?t fully integrate into American life as easily as they do, they still have important knowledge and resources they can pass on to their children.

 

One boy from Africa was very impressed when he was told that Hooked on Nature had made the field trip possible because they wanted to give the children the opportunity to go to the beach and the ocean.  He and his friend were very excited by the things they found on the beach and they made a collection of objects they found particularly appealing.  They insisted that their teacher take a photo of their collection to send to Hooked on Nature saying, ?Look at the wonderness we?ve found.?

On another trip a boy found a dead eel and the children first made a place for it to lie on a log.  They placed shells and rocks around it in a pattern.  Then someone suggested they should return it to the ocean.  Some of the children hoped it might revive while others thought it the best place for its dead body. They carried it ceremonially into the waves and returned it to its watery home.

Lincoln Park is a favorite destination for the trips because it has both the beach and woods and trails.  A boy asked if there were lions in the woods because his father had seen a lion when he was living in Africa.  He was reassured that no wild lions exist in Seattle and this led to a discussion of how much habitat different types of animals require to flourish.  The teachers also found a fallen tree and counted the annual rings to see how old it was.  But mostly the children ran and played freely, enjoying the wind the ocean and the trees and the many life forms around them.  For the children, teachers and parents alike these days in nature were rich and memorable.
In order to build on the experience of the pilot project, regular opportunities will be offered at parent gatherings throughout the school year to report on family adventures and discoveries in the out of doors.  Families will be honored for their efforts and encouraged to continue to explore. A final collection of stories and pictures will be shared with other Head Start programs across the region to inspire them to replicate the program.