For the past several weeks, I've been a facilitator for the River Rangers program offered by the Sackville Rivers Association. The guy who runs the program, Walter Scott, is a retired teacher who goes into classrooms (usually grade 4) and with the teacher gets the kids excited about ecology, biology, and conservation. All the classrooms are given an aquarium which we stock with a few species of fish and the kids and teacher are given instructions on how to care for the fish. Then the kids get to go on a field trip to either the Sackville or Little Sackville River where they have a hands on experience. There are three stations set up. One is a general type "What kind of fish live in the river?" station, where the kids learn about the different species of fish. The second station involves water chemistry where they get to test the pH of the water, and the third station is all about invertebrates; bugs, leeches, and other creatures that inhabit the rivers.
Guess which station I'm facilitating? The kids are given tubs, brushes, and strainers and then we hit the water, collecting the slimiest rocks we can find, putting them in tubs of water, and brushing them clean to get the "bugs". Then we strain the water in the tubs, they're given fresh water for their bugs and they set about identifying them. At the end of the session, we collect all the "bugs" into one communal jar and they can take them back to their classroom to put in the aquarium with their fish.
The kids learn about the importance of bugs in our rivers as fish food, cleaners of detritus, and as markers for pollution. There are mostly larvae and nymphs of stone flies, mayflies, caddis flies and dragonflies, but we quite often get snails and freshwater shrimp and the occasional leech.
Usually all the field trips are done by mid October, but we kept getting tons of rain that resulted in higher than safe levels in the rivers which meant postponing and rescheduling trips. Last Friday we had to cut short the trip already underway because of the cold and windy conditions (plus there's always one kid who slips and falls in the river and is completely soaked through) . Yesterday's trip was a go despite the freezing temperatures, but my face, fingers and toes were numb by the end of it.
The kids are quite funny when it comes to bugs. Most say that they think bugs are cool. Those who don't think that way become converts by the end of it. There are parents who come along as well, as chaperones, of course. Some of them are a little grossed out by the bugs, but usually become converts, too.
At the end of the trip the kids are all taken on a short walk to hear about how they can help keep their environment, and thus the rivers, clean. And hopefully, as they get older, they'll get, or stay, involved with the Sackville Rivers Association.