Stepping toward independence by spending time outdoors
“Can we come back tomorrow?” asked Alexa, a student in Jennifer Robinson’s Community Transitions class, as the 15-passenger van headed back to Bloomington from Sycamore Land Trust’s Beanblossom Bottoms Nature Preserve. With those words, many smiles, and inquisitive questions, it was evident that Jennifer’s plan to provide beneficial outdoor experiences was a success.
The Community Transitions program is for students aged 18-22 who need to continue gaining functional skills. The focus of the Transitions program is on creating a routine and activities that the individual can continue once living independent of support from Monroe County Community Schools (MCCSC). Jennifer Robinson, the coordinator, is committed to providing nature experiences for her students. She received a grant from Answers for Autism to fund her Nature Connections project. As Jennifer stated in her grant request, “Nature can be a very therapeutic experience for all of us…It is well documented that those with autism especially benefit from nature and spending time outdoors.” Upon receiving the grant, she purchased binoculars, field guides, birdfeeders, seed…and contacted Sycamore Land Trust to help connect the Transition students to nature.
Challenge accepted! Through nature, the students have had exposure to activities that can bring life-long enjoyment, leisure, and social engagement. Keeping in mind the Community Transitions program’s focus on building skills for independence, I wanted to emphasize that being in nature in Indiana can be safe, fun, and easy.
Beanblossom Bottoms has diverse habitats for viewing aquatic and terrestrial species. The low, wet depressions adjacent to the trail were filled with baby crawdads too numerous to count. Clear jelly-like egg sacks clung to leaf packs and tiny snails could only be seen with careful observation.
The commotion of a dozen voices and pairs of feet can be startling to an animal’s environment. Frogs gave warning calls as they entered the safety of water. One frog crossed the path. Brandon challenged me with a “you can’t catch that, Shane.” I soon gave Brandon the frog but it immediately slipped through his grasp. Vanessa got involved with the action, too, as we discussed and demonstrated seed dispersal. We compared the helicopter maple seed and the parachuting seed of the golden ragwort. Vanessa was downwind and became a landing place for all them. We identified and avoided poison ivy but felt the textured burs of sedges.
Alexa asked if they could come back the next day, but I never wanted this day to end. I felt an immediate comfort and connection with the Community Transition students. They were smart, fun, and engaging. They were interested and asked good questions. As we left Beanblossom Bottoms on Bottom Road, five bald eagles caught my eye. Turkey vultures had occupied that same spot earlier that morning. The presence of the birds tells me that a meal was there. I don’t know if the Transitions students saw the eagles as we drove by. I do know that they had an opportunity. An opportunity that exists when you have experiences in nature.
Enjoy Yourself. Enjoy Nature.
Environmental Education Director