Lesson in lean-to at Heart Lake
Lesson in a lean-to at Heart Lake

As the winter season settles in, nature has brought cold temperatures, snow and ice to the Adirondacks.  With the lack of sunshine, many people feel the need to go into a hibernation-like state, sleeping a lot and staying indoors as much as possible. For many Adirondack children, they experience the exact opposite. They participate in winter sports, find the time to play in the snow or if they are lucky enough, participate in the Adirondack Mountain Club’s (ADK) School Outreach Program.  This outreach program is known as “The Three Seasons of Heart Lake School Program” which focuses on providing outdoor, environmental education throughout the entire school year for Adirondack fourth graders.  The program begins in the fall, when ADK educators visit the participating classrooms a week or two before they venture out to the Heart Lake Program Center for their educational hike.  The lessons continue in the same format throughout the winter and spring seasons.  By the end of the school year, ADK educators have visited each classroom three times and have also provided outdoor, environmental education on a hike with the students three times.  These continued visits offer the students an opportunity to learn about the seasonal changes within the natural world.  This sets the stage for a positive and nurturing learning environment between the students and their instructors.  Additionally, ADK Educators create a season specific nature journal for each program, which creates a bridge between the outdoor and classroom curriculum.

The benefit of ADK’s school outreach program is that we provide students with more than a one-time field trip.  We interact with each class six times throughout the school year, providing them with the experiences to make a long-lasting connection with the Adirondacks.  Our program allows us to bridge the gap between the classroom curriculum and the natural world while meeting teacher curriculum standards.  It’s the perfect set up, one in which the teachers can justify allowing their students to interact with nature, while still addressing topics required in their science, math, social studies and english  learning standards.  To top it all off, this program is offered free of charge by ADK to Adirondack schools willing to make a long term commitment.  Thanks to the generosity of one ADK member, Art Haberl, the Marie L. Haberl school outreach fund was created to provide this programming in a time of tight budgets and school cuts.

Heart Lake Snowshoe hike
Snowshoe hike around Heart Lake

The winter portion of the Three Seasons of Heart Lake School Program is my favorite.  How many students are given the opportunity to learn about snowshoeing and animal tracking during school hours?  This year, the four schools participating in our program are Lake Placid, Elizabethtown-Lewis, Keene and Bloomingdale elementary schools.  Last week we completed all of the classroom presentations for each school, and the students are excited to get outside.  Our focus during the winter classroom program is to introduce the concept of animal and plant adaptations for winter survival.  Through visuals and movement, we help the students understand that all creatures that live in the Adirondacks must adapt in order to survive this harsh northern climate.   Next week, the first group of children will be making the trip out to Heart Lake for the outside portion of this program. We will strap on our snowshoes, track animals and explore winter life at Heart Lake while fighting that hibernation-like state that we are all challenged with this time of year.

Please consider making a donation to help support this school outreach program.