Walking on the moon-like surface of the Bagley Nature Area snow takes athleticism not usually found in four-year-olds, but the motivation is strong. They've been told there's maple syrup a few hundred yards from the parking lot.
Driven by pancake sensory recall, this troop from Lester Park Early Childhood Family Education trudges through to junior Kevin Taralseth and senior Britt Edlund.
The swish of their snow pants stops upon arrival but the silence doesn't last long. "What's a sugar bush?" one asks. Britt explains as she takes the drill out of her backpack. The kids respond like it's a magic show, "Ohhhhhhh!"
Their enthusiasm feeds Britt's lesson. She asks the kids what angle she should insert the bit. When they guess wrong, she explains how gravity works in their faucets.
Kevin joins in, demonstrating how sap flows up the tree by uncoiling himself from squatting to standing tall with his arms stretched high above his head, totally committed to the demo without the burden of being self conscious.
Facilitating the Wonderment
These Lester Park students are one of many appreciative audiences who visit UMD to learn about the maple syrup process in the early spring.
Recreational Sports Outdoor Program (RSOP) students, like Kevin and Britt, lead the groups. “Their majors vary, but they have a common goal of sharing their passion for the outdoors with others,” says Tim Bates, associate director of RSOP.
"Kids need to get outside and have self discovery," says Kevin, who's double majoring in Environmental and Outdoor Education and Biology. He likens nature-based teaching to guiding– he gently facilitates and then gets out of the way so the wonderment can take hold.
For this group, the wonderment is mixed with a dash of "miffed" when Kevin pours sap in the raw. Not what they expected. The smiles return when the kids' Dixie Cups are refilled with the real deal. Well, mostly...
Unexpected reactions are part of teaching, which is both appealing and a little intimidating for those entering the profession.
“Student leaders often go into teaching this program with a bit of trepidation, but after working with the children and building their teaching skills, they end up loving it and looking forward to the next year,” says Tim.
UMD has been hosting maple syruping school groups since the 1980s.
Story by Lori C. Melton
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