Kids stuff: Safe, engaging and fun experiences in nature.

Rich Preyer; photo courtesy of The N.C. Arboretum

Rich Preyer, on-site program coordinator at The N.C. Arboretum, discusses outdoor education, community collaborations and the return of the Wee Naturalist program.

What are some of your favorite aspects of working with youths at The N.C. Arboretum?

Their innate curiosity and sometimes uncanny observations about the natural world are fascinating to me. Similarly, having the privilege to see a child spot their first salamander or watching older kids track box turtles using radio telemetry is just so cool. Students and campers make our job easy when it comes to facilitating an experience that helps cultivate their connection to nature and an appreciation for STEAM subjects.

What are some of the unique challenges the site faces when working with kids?

All students deserve to have safe, engaging and fun experiences in nature. I wish we could do more to make that happen for more kids across Western North Carolina. We’ve expanded the number of outdoor classrooms that we have, increased the number of free outreach programs and continue to expand our scholarship opportunities. We know this is not enough, but we’re grateful for the continued collaborative opportunities with community stakeholders, organizations and funders that help make these experiences possible.

What are you looking forward to most this season as it relates to child education at the arboretum?

This time of year, our programming slows down like many of the animals that are currently hibernating or brumating, giving our department a chance to recharge and think about ways that we can make our programming more immersive and learner-centric. One of the most exciting additions to this year’s slate of offerings is the return of our Wee Naturalists program, a program designed for children 5 and younger and their guardians. One of the beautiful aspects of this type of learning experience is the intergenerational nature of it. Getting to see as many as three generations working together to uncover nature’s mysteries is a powerful thing to see.


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