EPNA Interview #5: Rick Reynolds, author of the EverGreen Twins nature activity books

This is a new series of posts in which I interview Portland personalities that are making a difference in connecting children of this region to nature. Richard Louv, the premier voice in the children and nature movement, has written several times about our natureful city. In Last Child in the Woods, he remarked on Portland’s Greenspaces program’s “call for the creation of a regional system of parks, natural areas, greenways, and trails for both wildlife and people;” PSU students’ research on possible greenroof design in downtown; and the 40-Mile Loop. In The Nature Principle, Louv commented on research in Portland on the health benefits of nature (outdoor “prescriptions”); profiled a teacher who worked as an assistant for a study of small mammals in an urban green space (Marshall Park); described Mike Houck’s work to make room for nature in a big city at a time when the consensus was that nature and wildlife were elsewhere, not within where people dwell; and how the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge provides access to nature via the bus system. There are other mentions of Portland, too. Patrick, Catherine, and I feel lucky to live in a city that values what the Earth gives to it. Moreover, we feel privileged to share this city with folks who strive to not only instill a love of nature into its citizens’ minds and hearts, but in providing better access to that nature.

Please contact me at darwinsbulldog@gmail.com if you have a suggestion for someone to be interviewed for this series.

Today I talk to Rick Reynolds, a long-time educator who has turned much of his energy toward developing engaging educational resources, such as The EverGreen Twins Activity Book and Marco the Molecule, which are designed to help kids connect with and better understand nature.

Hi Rick, welcome to Exploring Portland’s Natural Areas. Would you please share with us your background – education, jobs, etc. that relate to nature in some way?

I’ve had a blast helping connect kids with nature for over 20 years. I got started as a teenager working as a counselor at a summer camp where I loved spending time myself as a kid, and in college I was a volunteer with a program that got city kids outside–both in my home state of Connecticut. These wonderful experiences are the main reasons I chose to become a teacher, but in the years since I’ve seen how effective it is to integrate nature into every grade and subject, from my first formal teaching experiences in 3rd grade, 5th and 6th grade, middle school, and high school. For example, I taught social studies, as well as some science and technology, for 5 years at West Linn High School, and I found that the students were often more enthusiastic about learning when we incorporated nature, such as reading and discussing philosophy outside in a small area of forest behind the school. This is similar to the way Aristotle taught his students, which he found to be most effective.

I also served as a technology integration specialist at the elementary level for a number of years, and the most successful activities I helped facilitate often involved connecting students with nature, such as a project to help grow salmon from eggs, track the data on their development, and release them into an area river at the ideal time. The students directly involved in the project where completed engaged, as were the other students and community members with whom they shared their success story through multimedia presentations. The amount students learned from these “real” kinds of experiences directly connected to nature were far more effective than anything done entirely inside, without the nature component.

Today I see how all ages, even very young children, learn best in the nature-based programs I am involved in.

Describe for us how you connect Portland kids to nature. Tell us about your programs.

Writing and illustrating the EverGreen Twins activity books feeds my soul, as does teaching educational programs at schools and Luscher Farm. Getting outside with young friends and family is also deeply satisfying.

Do you have any moments in nature from your childhood that left an impression on you?

Definitely. Most of my happiest memories of childhood involve time in nature, such as playing in the woods and exploring two ponds near my house, enjoying the beach near my home in Connecticut, and spending time at a rustic summer camp.

Do you have children yourself? If so, tell me about their relationship to nature.

No, but I love spending time with kids. Fortunately, I have amazing nephews, a super-cool niece, lots of friends with kids, and I still get to experience the joy of teaching and learning from children.

Describe for us something about Portland’s focus on nature that you think is valuable for the city’s youth.

Our park system is one of the reasons I love Portland so much. Most kids–and adults, who need time in nature just as much–have easy access to nature in parks nearby, without having to leave the city. And I love all the beautiful trees everywhere…thank you Friends of Trees and everyone else who has been planting them!

Is there anything missing that you would like to see happen in Portland?

I love how bike-friendly the city is, and the many bike paths that travel through natural areas, but I look forward to a day where there are even more paths and roads separated from cars. Biking is a wonderful way to get closer to nature, as well as get exercise and from point A to point B, but the experience is even more fun–and safer and healthier–if it’s away from cars and trucks and their exhaust and noise.

Do you have any advice for parents looking to connect their kids to nature?

Engage your kids with activities that are fun and educational when you’re out enjoying nature. It’s the best way to learn and it’s one of the main reasons I’m creating the EverGreen Twins activity books; I want to make it easy for parents and teachers, as well as for kids to do on their own.

What is you favorite natural space in our city?

There are so many! I never met a park I didn’t like, but I especially love Forest Park and the area near the Audubon Society (my wife and I really love birds, for one thing). The Springwater Corridor Trail is also amazing, and you almost also see great blue herons and other cool birds and other wildlife there.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Rick! Patrick and I had the pleasure of meeting Rick at the 2012 Better Living Home, Garden & Lifestyle Show last March. One day we saw a young girl immersed in The EverGreen Twins Activity Book at our local park, which was great to see. And I reviewed Marco the Molecule last May.

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