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Understandable, Memorable, and Shareable

pbernal's picture

Regardless of socioeconomic status, ethnicity, or ecosysytem, children play in similar ways when they have safe free time in nature.

-Children and Nature Design Principles (Ch.3) Sobel

Knowledge, in my opinion, is perpetual when gained through experience. We learn not to play with fire because our bodies endure pain at first encounter. We know which foods we like best because we eat them and develop a sense of taste. We have the ability to know through our use of senses; sight, touch, smell, hearing, and taste. We can only gain true knowledge when we encounter and expose ourselves to an environment.

Instructors, guides, and even teachers can profess and stress the importance of the environment, but ultimately it means nothing if all they do is talk about it. Students will only have an idea, an imagination in their mind, never knowing the impact of the full ability of their senses. The environment will mean nothing if students never have an experience with it. As environmentalists, we can’t force the importance and value nature has for us upon others because we don’t all share the same values. We can’t assume that everyone has the same opportunities as others to experience the environment a certain way because we don’t all have the same access. We can’t teach the importance of environmental education if we can’t allow our students to dance with the universe.

As pioneers in environmental education, we must integrate and immerse ourselves in the communities we seek to spread our knowledge. If our passion for the environment can be flexible and extend upon what best benefits others, than not only are we really doing the job, but we are also showing how communities, like ecosystems, work best when communication and interaction is valued. The key is to work with solutions that integrate and not separate. 

Integrative approaches contribute to growth

As I planned my curriculum for environmental education, I wanted to accentuate the importance of interconnectedness in all types of ecosystems, especially large urban spaces. Some environmentalists have the idea that children and other individuals can’t really grasp onto the importance of the environment if they never step foot on a National Park, have a true backcountry experience, or volunteer significantly to improve the quality of natural spaces. We can find nature and explore the importance of the environment within large cities, like in Houston, Texas. We need to stop fighting against urbanization and design better practices where we learn about the importance of nature while also taking into account the amount of access children have.

We can’t advocate for the importance of the environment if we don’t give children the opportunity to immerse themselves in it. We can’t force love upon nature when it works best when the individual fosters it. Respect for nature is not something we can teach; it’s developed through emotional connections, through experiences and how they value to individuals. 

Nature will Teach, Step Back Slowly

From a young age, children are not only energetic, but they also tend to be very observant and curious. Their actions are similar to that of a parrot’s, they will repeat anything they hear as well as attempt in imitating whatever others do. They’re growing and developing characters based on their surroundings, their environment. Engagement with nature is essential as well as valuable to the development of their passion to nature. By feeding their curiosity, they will soon establish interests and develop passions of their owns. 


Growing up, my mother struggled to find somewhere over the summer to take care of me while she worked. It wasn’t necessarily that she didn’t want me to spend time with her, but she had four children to take care of and taking a day off work wasn’t exactly in her plans. Even if we didn’t need it, she would enroll us in summer school at our public elementary school. Eventually, there wasn’t enough space or money for the school to have kids in summer school that didn’t need it. My siblings and I had to stay home alone. We were unsupervised which meant we couldn’t step out the house, open the door or answer the phone for anyone unless it was my mom. We ate cereal and crappy unhealthy snacks because we were too young and incapable of cooking or making something for ourselves. Watching television and staying in bed was fun for like the first few days, but eventually we just wanted summer to end because we were bored out of our minds. 

Unfortunately, many other families went through the same situation my mother faced, where do you put your kids during the summer? But, most importantly can I afford it? 

I’d like to work along with families who aren’t socioeconomically meant to be environmentalists. I’ll be focusing with families from the Sunnyside Neighborhood Community located in Southeast Houston. I grew up and still live within the community and I’d like to work with families that I can not only relate to, but that they can trust me as an individual. 

The 5W's

Branch Out is a week long, summer day camp in Houston, Texas for children between the ages of 8 and 10.

The maximum space for the program is a total of 12 children. There will be a 6:1 ratio, which makes it easier for transportation. We will be commuting by vans, 6 children in each van consisting of two adults supervising throughout the two weeks.

There will be two terms, the first will run through mid June to leave a few days after school ends in May for kids to relax home. The second term will run in mid July. Each will be a week long.

By the end of the week, for both terms, the children along with their families will be invited to camp for a weekend. Many families don't know there are affordable places to camp, nor do they know what is needed to camp which leads to never taking their families out on a camping experience. We want to offer an ending ceremony overnight camping for two days, one night. We would leave and spend the night on Friday and spend Saturday there and come back that same day. 

Families who live within the Sunnyside Community are only allowed to sign up. This a program for families who are less fortunate and don't have the same access as other families. 

They would have to bring their own lunches everyday.


9:00 AM- 5:00PM Getting kids to wake up early can be a struggle, but many parents still have to make it to work on time. If anything, kids can get dropped off earlier, if families need to make it to work. The program also runs a bit later than school because many parents get off work late and struggle to pick up their kids from work, at times having to leave earlier than usual. 

Monday- Breaking the Ice 

  • Introductions and Names
    • In order to build a community, we need communication and communication can't happen without knowing who we are and where we come from. We will play where the wind blows after introductions. 
    • Throughout the day we will play a game called, Ready. Set. Go.
      • It will be random, several times through out the day and the children and two leaders will have to play around the circle naming the people around the group and the person with the most names remembered gets to call the next random Ready. Set. Go.
  • Scavenger Hunt
    • The first day is all about knowing each other and working together. The children will be paired in two's and we will go to a local park and have a scavenger hunt. We want them to interact with their environment while working together. 
  • End with Rose, Bud, and Thorn
    • It's important to reflect and think about your day. Sometimes while everything is going on, we forget to take into effect what we've accomplished. Rose, Bud, and Thorn allows the individual to reflect and pick out their favorite part of the day while also focusing on a thorn, which they'd like to change.

Tuesday- Nature within Urban Spaces

Discovery Green Park

An environmentally friendly park located in downtown Houston. It focuses on reminding Houstonians that even within a working place, you can take a break and enjoy a nice day at the park.  

  • Water Kayaking
  • Absorb
    • take in all that's arround us, in silence while everything else is in commotion
    • write about it and share with group
  • play frisbee, soccer, and flag football
    • all about playing within an environment that you wouldn't think of doing so
  • End with Rose, Bud, and Thorn

Wednesday- Deeper into the Woods

The Houston Arboretum

  • Explore the beautiful gardens and draw on their notebook what they see and like
  • Hike the trails 
    • We will be stopping at certain locations to ask questions for the group about their sorroundings
      • What do your hear?
      • Do you see any animals?
      • What type of environment are we in?
      • Who is welcomed here? Who is not?
  • End with Rose, Bud, and Thorn

Thursday- Giving Back

Hermann Park

  • The first half of the day will be spent planting flowers and trees at the Hermann Park
  • Getting kids involved and familiarized with tools, while teaching them how to properly use them as well
  • Teaching them about the different plants we're planting and also why we're planting them where we're planting them. 

Miller Theater

  • The second part of the day will be spent rolling around the hills and listening to the music in the open miller theatre. 
  • It's open to show children that fun can be outdoors. We will be singing and laying on the grass and playing several interactive and energetic games 
  • End with Rose, Bud, and Thorn

Friday and Saturday

Lake Houston Wilderness Park

  • Arrive on camp ground and before settling tents, we're going to get in a circle and take a few minutes to ask the parents and children to make observations around them. 
    • What makes a good camping ground?
    • Are we in any danger from any animals? Half-broken tree limbs?
  • Set Camp and introduce the washing dishes station
    • We will only be using public restrooms and showers, but no indoor kitchens
    • We will be cooking everything outside and washing the dishes outside
  • Smores on Friday Night as well as Story Time
    • The children will share the highlights of their week and it'll be a chance for parents to relax and really listen to their children. 
  • Saturday 
    • Hike around Lake Houston Wilderness Park 
    • Make a journal out of recycled cereal boxes and recyled paper
      • Great opportunity for children and their parents to work together and make something out of recycled materials.
    • Pack and Head Home and with Rose, Bud, and Thorn

Knowledge Without Love, Won't Stick

We want children to meet nature in their own environment, in what Houston offers. The purpose of Branch Out is to provide them with an outdoor classroom, to learn a quick lesson about what it means to interact with the environment and having fun with it. We want to feed their curiosities, and not over cloud their minds with information that they'll listen in one ear and out the other. The purpose of Branch Out is for children to understand the environment around them, remember it and keep the memories, and as they grow, share them not only with friends and family, but eventually with others as well. 


Sobel, David. "Chapter 2." Childhood and nature design principles for educators. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse Publishers, 2008. 9-18. Print.

Sobel, David. "Chapter 3." Childhood and nature design principles for educators. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse Publishers, 2008. 19-57. Print.

Sobel, David. "Chapter 6." Childhood and nature design principles for educators. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse Publishers, 2008. 75-97. Print.

Gardner, Morgan. "Chapter One." Linking activism: ecology, social justice, and education for social change. New York: Routledge, 2005. 1-26. Print.

Andrzejewski, Julie, Marta Baltodano, and Linda Symcox. "Chapter 6." Social justice, peace, and environmental education: transformative standards. New York: Routledge, 2009. 80-97. Print.

Andrzejewski, Julie, Marta Baltodano, and Linda Symcox. "Chapter 10." Social justice, peace, and environmental education: transformative standards. New York: Routledge, 2009. 159-171. Print.

Saylan, Charles, and Daniel T. Blumstein. "Chapter Five." The failure of environmental education (and how we can fix it). Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011. 72-94. Print.

Adamson, Joni, Mei Mei Evans, and Rachel Stein. "Chapter 18." The environmental justice reader: politics, poetics & pedagogy. Tucson, Ariz.: University of Arizona Press, 2002. 350-363. Print.

Freeman, Claire, and Paul J. Tranter. "Chapter 9." Children and their urban environment: changing worlds. London: Earthscan, 2011. 159-175. Print.

Cobb, Edith. "Chapter One." The ecology of imagination in childhood. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977. 15-25. Print.