Much of our focus at Saplings is on environmental education and awareness where we strive to create not only a respect for nature, but a love and sense of belonging in nature. Accordingly a lot of what we do takes place in wild, natural spaces and we certainly do have an impact on our surroundings. Mitigating this is a balance (and an imperfect one at that) where we try and determine an acceptable level of impact. When it comes down to it, we know that people won’t protect what they don’t love or know.
Leave No Trace Principles
Plan Ahead and Prepare – We think of this as “Know Before You Go!” and encourage students to be prepared for anything! This can help us address any safety concerns, help us achieve the other LNT principles, and allows for a more enjoyable time. It empowers students to take control and builds self-confidence, leadership and teamwork skills.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces- Though we don’t overnight camp (yet!), we often will set up camp sites for the day, tear them down and return things to the way they were. We have previously established areas that we use to minimize impact, and rotate through these campsites to give the areas a rest.
Dispose of Waste Properly- At minimum we pack out what we pack in! And better yet, we leave areas even cleaner than before we entered.
Leave What You Find ―”Can I keep it?” This experience usually begins an interesting conversation where we (together) weigh the options and make a decision about keeping nature‖. When we acknowledge this connection and explore it together, children are usually pretty good at letting nature be nature, or putting it in a special place and adding it to our class map, or taking a photo and looking at it later. And sometimes we do take things back to the classroom so we can study it and use it as a sample so we don’t have to take others, like beehives and feathers. And sometimes, after our thorough dialogue, students will decide to take something special home. And that’s okay. Because for us it’s about balance and understanding, and we believe it is important to reinforce student’s interest in nature and empower their connection to, and curiosity for, it.
Respect Wildlife -We avoid areas known for nesting at certain times of year (ie. bank swallows), practice catch and release while fishing, and generally observe animals from a distance. We do get close to insects, and do our best to not interfere. We’ve even seen students impose their own limits when catching bugs by washing their hands, having short time restrictions on how long they can stay in the bucket, or holding them close to the ground. In this way, it’s not a complete ―hands-off‖ approach, but a respectful approach.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors Other people use our area often – weddings, the museum, dog walkers and more. We follow these principles to ensure others have the opportunity to love this place like we do. And we always strive to be inclusive of people and courteous – the students love when given the opportunity to take people on tours of our special areas.
Acceptable Level of Impact- The idea of an acceptable level of impact is subjective.
- It’s a dynamic process that happens in the moment that’s inclusive of everyone and everything around – and it’s a continuously open dialogue.
- It’s about role-modeling and nurturing our students’ (and our own) ecological identities.
- It’s about discovering our connection, values and sense of self in nature.
- It’s an appreciation and sense of belonging – and it looks different for everyone.
- And sometimes it’s just about FUN.