Inspiring exploration, appreciation, and conservation of our natural world.

Educator’s Spotlight – October

Victoria Tatum:

Victoria’s journey through the realm of environmental education began when she was still a sprout, adventuring through some of our nation’s most beautiful national parks. She fondly remembers “backpacking with Dad” as her most cherished childhood memories include traversing between the eroded rock pillars of Bryce Canyon, gazing at the red and cream brushed cliffs of Zion, and exploring the colorfully diverse formations of Arches. Inspired by her own childhood spent in nature, Victoria has always been attracted to sharing her love of the outdoors with kids as she has spent the past several years teaching environmental education programs while following her path towards an environmental adventurous career.

Victoria has been very involved in the planning and teaching for the environmental education programs at the Boardman River Nature Center including Nature Day Camps, Nature Education for Students and Teachers (NEST) programs, and Peepers Pre-K. Emboldened by the rich landscape of the Nature Education Reserve surrounding the Nature Center, Victoria’s prowess in environmental education shines as she leads kids to discover “a whole new world outside.”

When asked her favorite thing about teaching, she immediately responded with “planning activities for summer camp as thereare an endless amount of nature related topics that just aren’t covered in the classroom during early and elementary childhood education. The Nature Center has so much to offer which makes it easy to draw new ideas from the animal displays and surrounding trails.”

Her favorite topic to teach? Ecosystems. “Many kids haven’t made the connections between natural relationships yet, and they sometimes think that their actions don’t affect others. So when we start to show them the ripple effect of predation, or habitat loss, or even littering – you can start to see it click in their heads – that’s the best part!”

One of her favorite teaching moments (of which there is still evidence within the Nature Center’s many learning drawers), was when her students were dissecting owl pellets in order to investigate the bird’s diet. “One boy was looking through the pellet’s remnants and discovered a whole bunch of microfibers! I was so excited to explain how owls have special digestive systems that allow them to pass objects like an entire piece of microfiber, which was left in its pellet – soon to be dissected by my student! In that moment, we were able to connect a whole bunch of different relationships by using this awesome piece of visual evidence.”

Victoria Tatum - ed. spotlight

Victoria also explained one of her best tools for engaging kids. She showed me her set of laminated animal cards that simply display a colored picture of an animal, whether that be a horse, a honey bee, or a giant bullfrog. “There are endless possibilities for using these cards. Perfect for hikes or rainy days, you can quickly capture the kids’ attention by showing them one or a series of cards and asking them to describe the animals’ habitat, making a food web, acting out the animal in a game of charades, or even taping the cards on the kids’ backs and then having them ask each other yes or no questions to try and guess what animal they have. You can get as creative as you want – and make up games on the spot, there’s just something about these cards that really draws the kids in.”

Aside from time spent teaching at the Nature Center, Victoria is pursuing a degree in wildlife. She’s been taking courses at Northwest Michigan College and plans to transfer to the University of Montana in Missoula, known for its excellent wildlife biology program. Victoria admits that she’s already mapped how far Glacier and Yellowstone Park are from the university’s campus and plans on learning from the land as much as she does from her formal coursework.

Always greeting adventure with a smile, Victoria has made it her goal to spend time at every single national park, adhering to her national park “bucket-list.”’ Her aspirations for adventure come complete with rules on the required amount of time spent camping and distance backpacking in order to fully take in the sights and sounds of each place and respectfully cross each park off of her list. Visualizing her most anxiously awaited trips, she says “anything in Alaska, the mountains, the forests – the vast wilderness just gets me.”

Invoking the wisdom of the land and honoring her relationship to nature, her words of advice for fellow young educators “teach what you’re passionate about. There was a hike I took with my students where we came upon an eastern hognose snake – I couldn’t contain my excitement as we watched the snake from a safe distance. I think we spent about twenty minutes just watching its movements and none of the kids could look away. We were all just observing in excitement!” She adds, “Your excitement for a subject is so contagious, and if you truly want to get your students engaged – it’s important to teach what you’re passionate about, it makes it so much more fun for everyone.”

We here at the Boardman River Nature Center are lucky to have Victoria as an educator and truly appreciate all of the time she has spent helping us provide the very best environmental education programs to the community. For a list of helpful resources on making and using your very own set of animal cards, just like Victoria, check out the resources below!