Hayden 4th- and 5th-graders spend morning in Steamboat at Yampatika | SteamboatToday.com

Hayden 4th- and 5th-graders spend morning in Steamboat at Yampatika

Jack Weinstein

Hayden Valley Elementary School fourth-grader Gabrielle Lewis spent part of her Monday morning writing a story while sitting in a tree.

She was part of a group of fourth- and fifth-grade classes that took a field trip to Yampatika’s Environmental Learning Center at the city of Steamboat Springs-owned Legacy Ranch near Colorado Highway 131 and U.S. Highway 40. The students spent the day participating in different environmental education activities.

Gabrielle said she enjoyed the opportunity to do schoolwork outside.

“I get to be outdoors,” she said. “Most of the time we’re inside, except for recess. I like the outdoors.”

The 55 students were broken into three groups to learn about animals and habitats, the forest and beetles, and they also participated in a creative writing exercise, said Sonja Macys, Yampatika’s executive director.

The Environmental Learning Center provides the nonprofit organization, which has delivered environmental education to children and adults in Steamboat Springs for the past 17 years, with a home and place to offer hands-on learning experiences.

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“One of the things we believe is kids have to be outside and enjoy the outdoors,” Macys said. “Or they won’t be stewards.”

In addition to promoting stewardship and a love of the outdoors, Hayden Valley Elementary fourth-grade teacher Keri Leudtke said learning shouldn’t always be confined to the classroom.

“They can learn so much (more) in an environment like this than we could ever offer in a classroom,” she said. “They’ll remember this. The more we can expose them to our environment and our community, the more they’ll be able to give back when they’re older, and even starting now.

“They don’t get to write in a tree in our classroom,” Leudtke added.

Leudtke said Monday’s fun educational activities also were designed to help grab the students’ interest.

Yampatika Naturalist Michelle Visocky taught a lesson about how the mountain pine beetle has affected local pine trees. Naturalist Elaine Sturges gave a presentation about animals and their natural habitats. And afterward, to demonstrate how deer survive in their habitat, she had the students play a game called “Oh Deer.”

Some students were deer, while others represented food, water or shelter. The students faced one another. The students pretending to be deer had to find another student who represented food. If there was no food, they pretended to die. Afterward, Sturges showed the students a graph from the game, which illustrated how the students pretending to be deer flourished or died off, based on the resources that were available to them.

Sturges said lecturing students about how deer survive in their habitat would have “gone in one ear and out the other.”

“Hands-on learning and active participation is going to last longer than me talking,” she said. “And it’s fun. Kids remember what’s fun. : Games are a good teaching tool for kids to help them learn. It’s alive for them.”

The students all agreed it was nice to get out of school for a couple hours, and they acknowledged the value of learning in a different environment. The students said they enjoyed seeing different animal skins, which were part of Sturges’ presentation, and playing games.

“You get to actually experience it,” fifth-grader Darian Murphy said.

– To reach Jack Weinstein, call 871-4203 or e-mail jweinstein@steamboatpilot.com