Teacher! Look at this!”
“Miss! What’s this?!”
“WOOOW! I never saw that!”
Their bright, excited eyes, million questions and flushed faces never fail to infect me with an excitement of my own. Mine is an urge to show them everything I know. Theirs is a rush to find out all the secrets they somehow missed until that moment.
We are in a Natura 2000 site. They are my students for three-odd hours of a field trip and they’ve just set out on a discovery challenge I’ve set them. Before starting out, I introduce them to the site and switch on their curiosity by not answering a single question they ask: “We’ll have to find that out – this is your classroom and this is your internet,” is my stock reply. I just make sure they ask the right questions, then point them in the right direction. In my years of field teaching, I don’t think I’ve had a single group of teenagers that hasn’t risen to the challenge. Most of the time, it’s a science lesson fieldwork visit I’m leading, so we look for animals, notice what habitat they’re in, and watch them interact: feeding on plants or on each other, communicate, find or build their home, and generally bring textbook science to life.
Every day is different: the weather coud be butterfly-and-chameleon hot or it could be fungus-and-snails wet. I am at the mercy of the weather: until two weeks ago, my usual Natura 2000 teaching spot was so dry, no flowers had come up and insects were hard to find. All the bird-attracting berries on the Lentisk bushes had already been eaten and very few robins were about to charm my students. Then, suddenly, a weekend of rain! Two days later, the ground was a carpet of white Sweet Alisons, fungi under the Pines, wood lice under the log piles and spider webs between branches, all waiting for my students to discover.
I know I’ve hit the mark when the question pops up: “Do you do this every day?” I can see the “lucky you” look behind the eyes that ask. I take advantage of the question to fuel the fire the field visit has lit. I tell them that nature keeps me happy and inspired. Then I get to my mission behind every field visit: humans need nature, I tell the eager faces, and I urge them to keep today’s bond alive by getting a daily dose of nature.
The next day, their class teacher texts me comments her students wrote about the outing. I pick my favourite: “Yesterday was a fantastic day. I felt relaxed in nature because I smelt the air, I heard birds sing beautifully … I want to go on another outing and I want to plant some trees to make our school beautiful.” Bingo! I cherish the warm hope that those children’s feelings carry on to adulthood and they give nature in Malta a better chance than we are doing today.
By Desirèe Falzon, Field Teacher, BirdLife Malta – DQSE