To Claire Coco, there’s a powerful logic to getting teachers and students outside the classroom.
“If you put children in a stimulating environment while they’re learning, they will learn faster,” said Coco, director of the Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center.
Kari Dietz agrees. The pre-kindergarten teacher sat holding Vinnie, a red-tailed boa constrictor — one of the center’s collection, calmly shifting the snake’s weight from arm to arm as he moved. Eventually, the snake settled, and rested his head against her wrist, and seemed to nap.
“When I have one of these in my hands, all eyes are on me. They are paying attention,” she said.
But given the demands already placed on teachers, it’s not always easy to find time to shake things up, Coco said, so the center hopes to make it easy for teachers, and that’s what Saturday’s Teacher Swamp Day was meant to demonstrate.
The center showcased its newly renovated education building located on Glenstone Drive — two roads over or through the woods — from the center’s main entrance. Educators from around the region were invited to learn how to incorporate the natural world into their lesson plans, either by bringing students to the natural world or by bringing the natural world to students.
Lauren Herbert, an educator at the center, said teachers took tours of the new building, learned about programs open to teachers and school groups at the center, and saw demonstrations of nature-inspired crafts and games.
About 40 teachers attended and learned about the educational resources available at the center, including Project Learning Tree, an environmental educational program that’s been around for decades, Coco said.
“This does the work for teachers. It was made for teachers, so it’s meant to fit right into Common Core,” Coco said.
Lessons are available for all grade levels and all subjects, she said.
The center also has access to two similar programs for natural sciences: Project WILD and Project Water Education for Teachers.
As Dietz put the snake back in his habitat, said she still has a healthy respect for snakes of all kinds. She said she wants to teach the children in her classes not to panic around snakes or any other living creature.
And she brings many living creatures to her classroom.
“I borrowed some honey bees from the LSU honeybee hive,” she said. “And a boa from here — I borrow the ambassador snake regularly.”
Sometimes, the creatures come to her classroom on their own. Once her students found a spider in the room and Dietz surprised them when instead of coming over to kill it, she covered it with a cup and brought it over to an empty terrarium, where they spent the next few days watching its web appear.
“They’re watching adults to learn how to react,” she said. “If I react with fear, they will, too. If I’m calm, they may be afraid at first, but they’ll come to see that it’s really OK,” Dietz said, adding that she tries to teach all her students to have the same healthy respect she does.
All the creatures that scare them are just as scared.
“That’s when they bite or sting — when they’re scared or protecting their homes,” she said.
For more information on these programs or the center, call the center at (225) 757-8905.