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Camp McDowell perfect venue for outdoor classroom

A spring day, unblemished forest and streams and inquisitive youngsters led to outdoor learning for Mill Creek Elementary School fifth-graders.

These students took a field trip to McDowell Environmental Center, commonly called ‘Camp McDowell,’ in Nauvoo. “The kids had some important lessons to learn about our natural environment while they had a lot of fun,” Mill Creek gifted specialist Sharon Harris said.

Canoeing was the students’ overall favorite activity. In the “Down to Earth” class, they hiked to and learned about a reclaimed strip mining area.

In “Survival Skills,” the Mill Creek fifth-graders learned tactics if they are lost in the woods. “They built ‘fairy shelters’ of small branches and leaves,” Harris said.

The “Native Americans and the Earth” sessions explained about the race’s respect for the earth. “The kids got to see, touch and use tools, clothing and a campsite like the ones used long ago,” Harris said.

Students literally jumped into a stream and learned about indigenous water life. “There was a night hike and another night class called ‘Alabama Neighbors.’ The kids learned about, saw and even touched raptors and snakes native to Alabama,” Harris said.

“Even at meals, the kids learned from rockers ‘Ice-T and the Three Little Birds’ to be ‘food waste warriors’ and make good choices about what they put on their plates,” she said.

After petting a barred owl, the Columbia students said it was the softest thing that they had ever touched. A few students overcame a lifelong fear and touched a live snake.

Fifth-grader Cole Moore enjoyed learning “about the macro-invertebrates in the ‘Pond and Stream’ class. I also learned in the ‘Down to Earth’ class that strip miners had to reclaim the land back to 70 percent of what it was before mining.”

Mhairi Kerr enjoyed the hikes and canoeing. “I learned there’s a type of flower called a mountain laurel that ‘flings’ pollen when touched,” Kerr said.

“As a night hike experiment, several kids thought the neatest thing was that wintergreen LifeSavers make sparks when you bite them,” Harris said.

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