Events, features and things to do for families in New Hampshire
The Coyote Club aims to build self-esteem with its nature-based curriculum
By Bridgette Springer
Crouched under a canopy of pine trees on a wilderness expedition this past autumn, an inquisitive group of knee-high children inspect a blob of dark brown goo. Their innocent exclamations echo in the darkened greenery of Stratham Hill Park not far from the passing traffic of nearby Route 33.
“I see some hair!” one child shouts, and another voice eagerly reports, “It has seeds in it!” Mary Mazur, the group’s wilderness guide that morning and Southern New Hampshire’s Coyote Club co-founder, is delighted by their discovery and explains by the look of it they have most likely found fox scat, or if you want it straight up, poop.
Give a kid a chance to talk poop and it will probably be to get some laughs. In this case however, the giggles remain in check as Mazur explains how area fox feed on mice and berries. Wide eyes stare back at her and you can tell this preschool crew is picking up an immediate awareness and respect for their outdoor habitat at an early age, just the thing Mazur is hoping for.
Moving on, the eager explorers inspect the perimeter of a granite boulder for chipmunk tracks. They are interrupted by bird chatter and point to a red-tailed hawk looking for food on a distant pine tree. Moments later they discover birch branches, which render the telltale root beer scent. There is just so much to see and do here, and witnessing this interaction reminds one of aimless days of innocent outdoor play and discovery.
Coyote Club, founded in 2007, is the brainchild of Johnny Pazdon who spent his days growing up in Dover playing outside and exploring the woods.
He was the type of kid who didn’t think twice about digging in the dirt, fishing, and observing nature. With a personality best suited for the outdoors, he went on to pursue environmental studies in college and soon discovered his true calling for nature-based youth education while teaching wildlife curriculum at the White Pine program under mentor Dan Gardoqui in Cape Neddick, Maine.
“Initially, I tried to apply my background toward making the planet a better place in some small way. But once I started seeing the positive impact nature based education had on kids, I was hooked,” Pazdon said.
Research has shown getting kids outdoors is key to emotional development, a prime reason for Pazdon’s nature-based teaching techniques.
Consider a Scholastic.com interview with Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.” In this interview Louv explains, “Exposure to nature has been shown to reduce stress and increase attention spans…When a child is out in nature, all the senses get activated. He is immersed in something bigger than himself, rather than focusing narrowly on one thing, such as a computer screen. He is seeing, hearing, touching, even tasting. Out in nature, a child's brain has the chance to rejuvenate, so the next time he has to focus and pay attention, perhaps in school, they'll do better.”
A second study, “Nature and Childhood Development,” in Building for Life: Designing and Understanding The Human-Nature Connection the author states, “Play in nature, particularly during the critical period of middle childhood, appears to be an especially important time for developing the capacities for creativity, problem-solving, and emotional and intellectual development.”
A mom’s perspective
Lori Rocha, mom of three participants in the Coyote Club program, ages 5, 7, and 9, agrees with the experts.
|How to explore outdoors with your kids|
What can you do outside with your kids today? It’s simple, just get outside and try the following:
“My favorite thing about Coyote Club is the fun Johnny and Mary bring to the kids through nature. My kids are unknowingly learning values about the world around them and getting a chance to just be themselves in a ‘no judgment’ zone. This is great news for me, since between getting the kids off the bus, doing homework, and cooking dinner there is little time left to be outdoor adventurists. With the Coyote Club, I can rest assure my kids are getting the opportunity to have good old fashioned fun in an age when you can’t necessarily send them out for a hike in the woods by themselves.”
Rocha’s son even presented his club discoveries to the entire school last year, a true testament to his self-esteem and assurance.
Pazdon and Mazur breakdown the scientific research and outline why being outside and learning through nature is a must do, especially when it comes to confidence-building.
• “Humans are meant to be outside, they are not meant to be confined inside all day, whenever you get someone outside, you are connecting to something primal,” Pazdon said. “Mary and I are facilitating what nature already provides. Nature does a lot of the work for us.
• According to Mazur, “Everyone has an environmental instinct; it’s just a matter of tapping into that desire. Thousands of years ago, these kids would have been walking alongside a medicine woman and learning about herbs and berries while their parents performed work in the fields. It’s unfortunate that in our lifetime, a nature hunt may seem a bit unusual.”
• If a child asks me what a plant is, and I answer rose bush, more than likely they will say ‘Oh,’ and keep walking past it. They may never remember what they were looking at. If I ask one of my explorers to tell me about the plant texture and smell, they will remember what they have seen. The kids I work with respond very well to this type of teaching, rather than being talked to, or simply associating nature finds with a label and their confidence overflows, according to Mazur.
Coyote Club is available as an after-school and preschool program in numerous towns throughout the area including North Hampton, Greenland, Stratham, Exeter, Dover, Brentwood, East Rochester, and Durham. The program also includes one and two-hour after-school activities and summer camps. For more information on the Coyote Club go to www.nhecology.com or e-mail Pazdon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bridgette Springer is a freelance writer juggling motherhood in Stratham. She is a contributor to regional newspapers, magazines, and marketing projects. Bridgette can be reached at email@example.com.
Last updated by Morgen Thiboult Feb 22, 2011.