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"Nature Tales" Program Makes Big Splash at Local Preschool

Bethany Long with preschooler
Caroline Shields, left, and Lander University senior Bethany Long, an early childhood education major from Prosperity, listen to the sounds made by the "rainstick" Caroline made during the "Nature Tales" program at Lifetime Discoveries preschool.

Lander University assistant professor of education Cynthia Gardner's "Nature Tales" storytime and science exploration program recently debuted at a local daycare center. It went over well.

Lifetime Discoveries director Melissa Yarochowicz received "a lot of positive comments from the parents about last month's program," Gardner said.

The program, made possible by a grant from the Environmental Education Association of South Carolina, paired early childhood education majors from Lander with a class of three-year-olds.

The lesson began with Lander instructor of education Jane Alexander's reading "Creepy Crawly Calypso," a counting book about musical instruments. After the story, the Lander students took the children outdoors to find items in nature that made sounds. The lesson continued with a workshop in which the children made "rainsticks" from paper towel tubes filled with popcorn and rice, closed at the ends with aluminum foil, which they then used in "a little nature symphony."

Participants were given a copy of the read-aloud book to take home, a bookmark with suggestions of how they and their families could explore sounds, a CD of rain sounds and their rainsticks.

According to Gardner, the program achieved its goal of providing the preschoolers opportunities to explore science and nature within the framework of children's literature, but there was a payoff for the Lander students who participated, too.

"It was a wonderful experience for them," she said. "They absolutely loved it."

Gardner recently had a memorable experience herself when she was named S.C. Project Learning Tree Outstanding Educator of the Year for 2010.

Project Learning Tree (PLT) is an environmental education program designed for teachers and informal educators who work with students from pre-kindergarten through high school.

Associated with PLT since the late 1980s, Gardner has been a facilitator of PLT workshops around the state since the mid-1990s.

The Lander professor, who incorporates PLT activities in her Nature Tales program, was honored at the annual meeting of the S.C. Forestry Association, one of the sponsors of PLT in South Carolina.

Gardner looks forward to continuing her Nature Tales program - and her relationship with Lifetime Discoveries - in the spring, when she and another group from Lander will present a lesson on trees to a group of four-year-olds. If additional grants can be secured, she would like to continue the partnership with the daycare center in the future as well.

"I would love to make this an ongoing thing," she said.